I hear this a lot. Often it’s something that’s said to avoid a difficult conversation, or an uncomfortable situation in the office. It’s a limiting belief that can mean inauthentic relationships are formed, and that progress on a project is halted.
A few weeks ago I used Emma Willis’ example of holding Roxanne Pallet to account as a “comfortable confrontation”. Emma used some of the techniques I talk about in this article.
For radio presenters “I don’t do confrontation” is the reason given for not holding guests or contributors to account. It’s understandable to feel that way, as you are often thankful for contributors and guests being on your show. Asking difficult questions feels unfair, out of character or ungrateful.
The reality is that difficult conversations are likely to happen every single day on air, or in the office. Here are some of the tips I give to help you through that unavoidable awkwardness, and to get the best from the guest.
1. Make sure you know what you want
Make sure you have a good understanding of what you want out of the conversation before you enter in to it. Set your intent. It might be to be kind, or to get the answers that your audience (or you) deserve. As a result, you will have to ask the question that plays devil’s advocate to get the answer you want.
When interviewing someone on the radio about a Cheese Festival the question: “So what are the reasons people like cheese?” Would get you so far. But “why are you celebrating cheese, it’s just a silly piece of dairy isn’t it?” Could get you a stronger, more interesting answer.
2. Check your language
If going at it directly like this is too uncomfortable, you can distance yourself in your language to take the emotion and the personal attack out of it.
Firstly – argue the idea, evidence or behaviour, not the person. The minute you go to personal language like “you’re an idiot for thinking what you think” you have lost the productivity of the conversation.
A therapist of mine suggested to me to use the word “I” in conflict, rather than “you”. In broadcasting I am constantly telling people to use the word “you” as a way to engage their listener. It’s the most powerful word you can use for this. But in the context of difficult conversations it can be a useful tool to use I: “What I am seeing is <example> behaviour which is implying to me…” rather than “You are a really difficult person”.
On the radio it works to use phrases like “Some people might say that this is a silly Festival for Cheese – is it?” or. “What do you say to someone who says that thinks this Festival is a silly idea?”
3. Agreeing is Partial (not Impartial)
I recently spent a day coaching new radio presenters, practicing their interview technique. Their brief was to remain impartial. Presenter after presenter interviewed their contributor consistently grateful, constantly agreeing with them and guess what – it was dull. That may be unfair, but I didn’t really learn anything from the interviews. It is a common mistake to think that impartiality sits in agreeing. It’s actually the opposite.
In the on air interview, or if you are hosting a panel, it is your job to make sure you are covering the information from all angles. Using the language above (e.g. “Some people might say…”) you can put forward an opinion that may not be yours, without having to attach yourself to it. This can make the feeling of confrontation a little easier.
My husband really enjoys a debate. One time we agreed that we would go out on a family day out at 11am. At about 10.30 he and his aunt got locked into a debate about politics of some sort. We all sat there till 1pm till they came to their conclusion.
I mean, he REALLY loves a debate.
I used to hate it. My skin would crawl. I’d feel shame and discomfort. I would want to hide. And let’s be honest, no one really wants to sit around for 2 hours while you’re waiting for a heated discussion to be finished!
But then I wondered what would happen if I leaned in to it. He loves it, I would be gutted if he dismissed one of the things I love. So I decided to try joining in, rather than shutting it down, and use it as a means of practice. For some people they like the opportunity to intellectually spar, and it’s not about winning or losing, it’s about learning.
Even so, it’s so hard not to get emotional, or take it personally! But with him, I am in a safe space. He knows me, I can get my words wrong, I can correct myself, I can practice what it is to be devil’s advocate, to call things out I don’t agree with. The outcome is I am getting better at forming my words and questions in what can be an emotional state & I am better at speaking up in other situations too. And, I think my husband and I have actually found a place to connect a little more.
So find someone to practice with.
I have had to fire people, I have had to deal with getting people to realise they are making mistakes, and I have had to deal with conversations about my own work and behaviour that have been really tough. In every situation the one piece of advice that has helped is this: it’s supposed to feel uncomfortable.
For years I thought there was “a way” to make the uncomfortable, comfortable. There are ways to make things less uncomfortable, but some conversations are always going to be difficult.
Once I embraced the discomfort, I was able to come to terms with understanding that conflict can be a route to growth, that it was something to practice and commit to getting to a more interesting place.
Chris Evans announced he was leaving BBC Radio 2 on Monday 3rd September. The station has 15 million listeners. He’s moving to Virgin Radio Breakfast, a station with 400,000 listeners.
For radio presenters this sort of rumbling has an enormous impact, whether you present on the station or not. What other changes might this lead to? Does this affect me? For the better? For the worse? Where are the opportunities?
Ultimately, you have to ask yourself, have you done the work to deal with the outcome – whatever it is?
My first hearing of this latest seismic news was a loud “Wow?!” from upstairs as Mr C got the news that Chris Evans would be joining the Virgin Radio family (Tim is the Evening Show Host on the station).
Then I have that mad succession of thoughts… but out loud:
“That’s amazing! Oh wait. What does this mean for you? What is the worst case scenario?… hang on what is best case scenario?! Ahhhh, remember when we used to watch Chris Evans every morning on the Big Breakfast and he was a hero? Wait… hang on… have you called your boss?? Call your boss!”
This is me in “Wife of Presenter” mode. No doubt, these are the thoughts of the presenter too, but they are happening internally! Tim just asks me to stop talking! He is very excited, his mind blown, he’s considering all his colleagues, and then, he phones his boss 🙂
The fact NO ONE saw this seismic shift in the UK radio landscape coming is testament to the News Corp/Wireless team for keeping the gossip mongers out, and it is also a timely reminder that you don’t know what’s going on inside a station boss’s mind!
Anything can happen at any time, so what can you do to be ready for a seismic shift?
1. Build Relationships
If you are already in the gig it’s easy to make sure you are building in positive relationships with your boss and your production team. Make a brew, be proactive, have ideas, make stuff better. A coffee and a chat goes a long way. Oh and – don’t be a dick.If you aren’t in a job already – you have some graft to do. Building relationships starts with building familiarity and then getting in front of people. Networking events are good, emailing is good, oh and don’t be a dick.
2. Have Patience and Tenacity
You will never get a job or a promotion from randomly sending some audio, once, to your favourite radio station’s boss. A station production team has to trust that you will be able to steer their ship while you are on air, and fit their brand. This trust building takes a long time. Your aim is to make sure that you are next in line. This takes a lot of graft: building relationships, listening to advice, networking and learning.
There is something to be said for being the last man/woman standing, cos while you will get replies that say “No”, you’re more likely to get no reply whatsoever.
Bide your time. Just. Keep. Going.
3. Collect Experience (in audio form)
Keep all your best audio. Make it a habit.
It takes time to build your 3 minute demo, the last thing you want is to be starting from scratch with nothing from the last year. A client and I have been working on gathering audio for the last few months, and we have been back and forth regularly about what we need for the demo and what could be better. It will make for a solid showreel as a result.
But it doesn’t have to be about finding the next job…
4. Create Opportunities through Sharing Audio Regularly
When you are proud of something you have done, bank it so you can send it to your boss, and other members of your team. Not everyone can listen all of the time. And it is always good for the sales team, or the PR team to know what you are up to. It makes it easier for them to tell the stories to the people they come into contact with.
If you are trying to break in to the industry, send your demo but ask for advice rather than a job, and get feedback.
Make sure you follow up with more audio that has taken that feedback on board. If you don’t get a reply, follow up with more audio anyway. You are aiming initially to build familiarity, and getting your name in the station boss’s inbox regularly will go some way to do that.
5. And Finally… Get Your Finances In Order
I know this seems really obvious but it is a lot easier to make decisions about your career, when you aren’t doing it for this month’s bills. While we can’t all be on hundreds of thousands a year, especially when we are just starting out, financial management means you can take risks without the worry of finding the money to pay your rent.
The basics apply – stash some cash away at the beginning of the month for you, allow for the “holiday pay”, keep your receipts, and save 20-25% of it for tax payments. If you don’t have one already, get an accountant!
The person taking over from Chris Evans will, in theory, leave a gap that will need to be filled that will leave a gap that will need to be filled, and so on and so on. It might be that it’s your opportunity this time, it might not. But this is a long game interspersed with seismic shifts, that you will always need to be ready for.
So as a bit of background for you: I am hugely passionate about helping people to be more assertive and to tell their stories so that they can advance their business, career or just improve their life. I set up The Presenter Coach in 2016, after leaving a full time job (I burnt out). Having had experience working freelance, and running a similar business with a good friend previously, I knew I wanted to go alone. My family life required me to be able to choose what I did, and when I did it – as did my mental health!
There are 2 things that help you build your business or career:
- Be good at what you do
- Tell people about it
I specialise in helping people with the second part (unless you are a radio or tv presenter in which case I help you with both parts). Most people reach a point in their business growth or career where they have to stand in front of people and speak. Whether that be pitching, speaking at conferences or just getting better at interviews.
My aim with The Presenter Coach was that I wanted people to feel like they were being heard. Even today, I want people to see or hear you speak in public (on stage, on air, on screen) and think: “I want to work with you”.
The current structure of my work looks like this:
I coach a lot of 1-2-1 clients: radio & tv presenters, & business owners looking to get better at speaking online and on stage. I run training courses in public speaking, I run networking and storytelling workshops, and I have created an online radio presenter course.
- How do you run Your Biz Your Way?
Analogy time: When I go climbing I like to climb without a harness. I love the freedom, the rush, the risk, and you’ll find me up as high as my strength will take me (plus a bit more – I like a challenge)
The minute I have a harness on the terror sets in. I feel restrained and that something terrible is going to happen. I won’t feel confident climbing so high, and I also have to rely on the person below to catch me if I fall.
Running my own business is just like climbing harness-free. I’m not restricted by convention (although I like to learn from it). I experiment, I learn from my mistakes, and I answer to my clients – no one else.
I ensure that I play to my strengths and passions. I value helping people, personal growth and my family. My strengths are being organised, enthusiasm, coaching, learning, creativity and constructing content. I enjoy serving clients, and constantly finding new ways to improve their experience.
- What do you do differently in your work that illustrates running Your Biz Your Way?
- Why did you make up your mind to do it like that?
I made up my mind to ensure that my work and life were equally fulfilling. I don’t think of organising my time to show “work/life balance” I think of all of it as “life”. This means I use traditionally “work skills” in family life: my kids are constantly coached! Equally I value “life skills” in my work: if I am not feeling enjoyment or challenged from something I scrap it.
When I worked in my full time work, I found that I never had time to “sharpen my tools”. I love learning, and I find that everything I learn pumps it’s way back in to the service I provide and in turn my profit. So I now mark time in my week for learning. I read, do online courses, listen to podcasts – all in the bid that the next coaching session with my next client will be better for it.
I also have a rule: if I get asked to do something that terrifies me, I say yes.
- How do you go against the grain or against the received wisdom in ways which make you happier in yourself, more productive and more abundant in your biz?
I am regularly looking for unique ways of doing things. My public speaking course is spread over 6 weekly sessions, rather than being delivered in one day. It is designed to highlight the need for rehearsal.
I used to think that to be successful I had to work every minute available, and I would sacrifice my health for it. This was a received wisdom, from watching leaders email at 11 at night, or the online business world revealing being up till the early hours of the morning. There is a time for working in this way, but over a period of time it always ends in one way: burn out. As a result I now make time for my fitness and sleep.
There is one thing I have done though, that people seem to identify as controversial:
When I was in my 20s I read an article about motherhood in different decades. The woman that had become a mother in her 40s said that “rather than get someone else to look after your kids, get someone to do the jobs that mean you have the time to be with your kids”.
Knowing that time with my family fulfils me the mos, I took heed of that article. I now employ someone who comes to my house 4 evenings a week to do the laundry, load the dishwasher, and set the house back to normal. We have quality family time as a result and I am more productive in my business.
I love climbing this business world without the harness. I love taking strategic steps, seeing if they work and then manoeuvring to be better. Finding my support network has been vital and finding one that works for me, revolutionary. Mostly, being the best mum I can be is at the centre of everything I do: giving love, being supportive and being a role model for them. This means making sure I am fulfilled and healthy is priority number 1. My biz my way is the way that I can achieve this.