Sharing Truth in a Catalytic Conversation

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Sharing the truth with another person who needs to hear it is scary for most people. If you have a structure to follow, it will help immensely. The structure we propose is from the Moment of Truth, created by Robert Fritz and Bruce Bodaken, and is part of our GR8 Leaders curriculum.

Use these four steps in a Catalytic Conversation, which uses Galatians 6:1-5 as the foundation of the conversation.

Four Steps

There are only four steps, which are easy to remember and personalize to fit you. Like any tool, it requires practice to do it well.

1. Reality

2. Story

3. Plan

4. Feedback

Acknowledge reality

Analyze how it got that way

Create an action plan

Create a feedback system

“Stay on topic” – the topic is expectations were not realized

“Not Problem-Solving” – that comes next, get the story

“The plan is the agreement for change.” – it is their responsibility

“Feedback is a process, not a single event”

When you share these 4 steps with everyone, you help build a culture and truth. Not only share the steps but also tell them how the MOT will be used to help people grow and develop. This is not a secret leader tool only you know how to use. It is a tool that everyone needs to know, even if they do not use it. By the way, it is extremely useful at home, as well as at work.

Finally, do not start the conversation without remembering what God has told us in Galatians 6:1-2 – this conversation is about following the Holy Spirit, restoration, gentleness, and love.

Step 1—REALITY: Acknowledge the Truth

Critical Thoughts

Before going further, please note that some situations of clear sin may only require giving the person a verse or passage in God’s Word to read. Then remove yourself and rely solely on the power of God to work on their heart to make the changes God reveals to them. That is Step 1, where God reveals reality whether they agree or not.

Those situations are like doing Step 1 without asking a Step 1 question. You rely on God’s Word to do Steps 1, 2, 3, and maybe step 4. Of course, you remain available to talk further if they want, especially to be a resource like you will see in Step 4.

For all other situations, the first question for a MOT is critical. If people just did this first step, performance would be improved! That’s a bold statement, but it is also the power of holding people accountable.

Critical Point: Stay on Topic – It is about Reality

This step is about reality. You may see reality, but they may not. Only after both of you agree that "reality is what it is" there is less chance that things will change. Either expectations were met, or they weren't. When you start Step 1, it is not about your opinion. 

Step 1 is only about the facts – “You were asked to finish the project by November 23, and now it is November 25 – so, the project is late, right?” This isn’t about your feelings, so do not say anything like, "You really let me down." This isn't about you; it is about helping people develop and improve. When introducing emotions into the conversation, you encourage defensiveness and fear rather than growth and development.

And it isn’t about getting the story – that is Step 2. This is ONLY about them acknowledging REALITY – how it is. The only message you deliver is reality, not your feelings or anything else.

Your First Question

Here is the type of question you would ask a person when you compare expectations to actual results.

  • You did not get his lists to him when he needed them. Is that correct?
  • You have not been checking your emails and voicemails every two hours. Is that correct?
  • You have not asked anyone to show you how to use voicemail. Is that correct?

Notice that the question is not about what a person knows, not about creating fear in them, and not about why they didn’t meet expectations – it is ONLY about the reality that expectations were not met. And the question only needs a YES or NO answer.

Now, if you wanted to create a more relational question, you could ask something like:

  • Since Burt did not get his lists when he needed them, can we agree that’s not good?
  • Let’s talk about the lists you were to send to Burt. Can we agree it is not suitable for our business that the lists weren’t sent when Burt needed them?

Now, think about a time someone didn’t meet your expectations.

  • Create a direct, to-the-point question that requires a YES or NO answer
  • Create a more relational question that still requires a YES or NO answer

Try it, and you will do yourself and those around you a big favor because it helps you start constructively sharing the truth. Telling the truth is a critical element in helping a person change.

James 5:19-20 (NKJV) – Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.

How to Handle Excuses

Most of the time, when you let people know this conversation is about developing people and sharing the truth about expectations and reality, there are few excuses. But excuses show up, and there is a simple way to handle them. Suppose in the example above, the person replied…

“Yes, but Joe has required a lot of additional training, taking up a lot of my time, and you know how important his training is.”

How would you handle that? Consider this simple approach:

“I do want to talk about that, but first, let’s make sure we agree that the expectation was not achieved. Can we first agree on that?”

Even if they offer a second excuse, you follow the same format. There is no need to get frustrated with them, and you won’t if you maintain the mindset that this is about growing and developing people. It isn’t your job to make them change. Your job is to give them the opportunity to grow and change if they want it. At some point, that opportunity to grow and change may be closed.

But They Are Just Difficult!

Yes, you will have those people in your life. But this ISN’T ABOUT YOU! This is about following a process that gives them the best chance to grow and develop. When that happens, you increase their capacity, which increases the organization's capacity. Without that thinking, your flawed thinking will result in emotions that hurt the MOT. Your emotions tend to be your most significant obstacle to correcting poor performance. Of course, your emotions are just a byproduct of wrong thinking.

So, that again brings up what is going on in your mind when faced with correcting someone’s performance. You experience a values conflict. Think about it. On the one hand, you value peace and emotional comfort. On the other, you value truth. So, which will you choose?

Look at your actions because that shows what you value! In life, truth and reality are more important than avoiding uncomfortable feelings. I think you would agree with that statement until a MOT is required. Then, you will know what you value – look at what you do.

Servant Leaders share the truth to build a culture of truth that is critical for relationships and organizations. If you do not share the truth about poor performance, remember what that implies. Yes, you are saying, "Poor performance is totally okay here!"

Here is a good statement that will help build a culture of truth.

It is SAFE to tell the truth around here, but it is not okay to NOT tell the truth.

Servant Leaders focus on truth and reality. They are self-governing and value doing the right thing. Remember, telling the truth is an action that shows what you value.

Make “Truth Telling” The Norm

Holding someone accountable may not be enough to see a change in their behavior, but it is an outstanding step in the right direction. This step alone can energize self-governance in people that have reasonable values. Talking about the truth will not get it done. Listing value statements will not get it done. Teaching and training each person, each employee in the organization, to tell the truth, even when it is bad—THAT WILL WORK! It builds a culture of truth!

Before you start sharing the moments of truth, people are probably uncomfortable when the truth is shared. That means you need a better structure. If you persevere in sharing moments of truth, you continue to build a culture of truth. In time, people see telling the truth as part of their job. Of course, you always want to reinforce telling the truth with mercy. It is not about trying to punish someone with the truth.

Galatians 6:9-10 (NKJV) – And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.

Step 2—STORY: Analyze How It Got to Be That Way

Your Role

When you see they understand that expectations have been missed, you move from Step 1 to Step 2. In Step 1, you want to figure out if both of you are looking at REALITY the same way. Now, you want to get the STORY of how the expectation was missed.

This step requires your skills of listening and asking questions. Your ability with those skills helps them think clearly about the events that led to this current reality, the missed expectation. The critical question you want answered is, "How can we understand what happened?"

Don't get fooled into hearing about one single event. "Joe had a problem, so I helped him." That would be just one event in the time frame from the point they received the assignment to the deadline being missed or receiving less than adequate quality. If that was their first statement, ask, "What were you doing just before he asked for help?" Then, you could work back from that event.

You can also start at the beginning. "Let's back up to the beginning. What was your plan of action to make sure you met the expectation?" The better you understand the sequence of events, the more you will help them find a way to do it better next time. So, you explore and analyze as much of the events as necessary to see how they were thinking and where things went wrong. You want to ask about the decisions they made, the actions they took, the assumptions they used, and the action plan they followed.

The more you ask questions to see the chain of events, the more you help them grow and develop into a self-governing individual. THAT IS YOUR ROLE in this step of the MOT!

And this step is NOT about problem-solving! When you hear the story, you will see some problems. Please don’t try to solve the problem because this step is ONLY about getting the story. It takes discipline and excellent listening and questioning skills to understand the story. You can mark the situation in your memory or jot a note. BUT DO NOT STOP TO DISCUSS THAT PROBLEM!

Track Their Thinking

Step 2 of a Moment of Truth depends on your ability to OBSERVE what they say. Think about the combination of words Observational Listening. Those two words refer to two different senses – seeing and hearing. You not only listen, but you ask questions about the story that you are developing from what they say. As you track their thinking, you begin to see the sequence of events. You see...

  • the beginning decisions and actions
  • the following events and the outcomes of those
  • you see their role and the interaction occurring with others
  • you see both their execution and the process they used

That is a process of co-learning as you see the story unfold. And it is better to stay with What, How, and When questions. 

Critical Points

In Step 2, you get the STORY. It is the story of how the expectation was missed. You use your excellent listening and questioning skills without becoming emotional. And you don't get sidetracked by trying to solve problems as you listen.

James 1:19-20 (NKJV) – So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

Three additional critical points to remember:

  • Without this step, you will not see how they think and how they can make changes. When you do a good job of listening and asking questions, you see an accurate picture of what happened.
  • Do not discuss who is to blame. This is about developing people rather than blaming them.
  • Make sure you understand the sequence of events that make up the entire story.

Step 3—PLAN: Create an Action Plan

Critical Point: The plan is the agreement for change.

Recognize the Actions Needed

This step provides both of you the path for developing additional capacity and ways to help the person grow. Often, the plan is quite simple, one or two items and requires a verbal agreement. Other more complex situations need a written plan. This will help you know they understood what needed to change when they send you the plan. It will also give you another opportunity to discuss any changes needed.

So, Step 3 is the PLAN – the AGREEMENT for change.

If you want them to get the most benefit from the MOT, make the PLAN their responsibility. You may have the experience to create a better plan, but don't do it. That does not help them grow. Yes, you can help them with insights as you discuss the plan, but don't make it yours.

Proverbs 15:22 (NKJV) – Without counsel, plans go awry, but in the multitude of counselors they are established.

If you create the PLAN, you create a structure that they may not understand, may not commit to, and may not work. Worst of all, if the plan doesn't work, it creates a path of least resistance to blame you. So, help them with the PLAN, but don't do it for them.

Capture the Plan in Writing

Most of the time, a MOT takes little time, and the plan for change is simple enough for them to tell you what they will do. If the plan is more complex or you have had some difficulty with past moments of truth with this person, capture the plan in writing.

Consider this: the written plan gives you insight into how they understood the MOT. They may want to do what is right, but they also want the MOT to be over. When they write the plan, it can help them clarify it. Additionally, their written version gives you a chance to respond with clarifications.

Step 4—FEEDBACK: Create a Feedback System

Critical Point: Feedback is a process, not a single event. It is a habit, part of a servant leading servants.

While each step of the moment of truth is helpful, this last step can be critical. Step 1 is about the REALITY that expectations have not been met. Step 2 is getting the STORY. Step 3 is creating a PLAN.

And now, Step 4 is about FEEDBACK. This step is about what you can do to be a resource for them to make the change. When you become a leader, you need to become more of a coach. Step 4 is about coaching. Leading requires improving your interpersonal skills and your decision to value people enough to develop them.

Remember the critical shift every leader must make? Move from doing good work to doing good work through people. Servant leaders embrace a consistent approach to feedback. It is best if it becomes a habit rather than just another step in the MOT process.

Feedback is a process, not a single event. That is why it is part of coaching. And it will only happen if you value people enough to be available when needed.

You now have everything you need to have a MOT with someone. Try it now!


accountability, help people see reality, how to deal with excuses, listening and asking questions, moment of truth, sharing the truth, their responsibility to change, TV0038

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