Quit Beating Around the Bush: 6 Steps to Making Difficult Conversations Successful (and Bearable!)

suncloudsHe so badly wanted the manufacturing management job, but he was just not showing the  talent to lead and care for a team.

As his manager, I  knew he dreamed of leading the group – he had been talking out it to his peers more and more.  That’s the only way I could figure it out – he would not really discuss it with me.  In fact, he had said on more than one occasion, “I wouldn’t really want to do that job.”   Confusing, eh?

It was time for that difficult conversation – the one that would let him know the company did not see him as management material, that this particular dream was not going to happen anytime soon.   But I really, really hate those conversations – the ones that close doors in someone’s career.  So I waited.  And I sort of dodged the issues in our one on one conversations.  Uggh.

One morning I snapped out of my glass-half empty, negative view of the situation.  He was good technically, a strong problem-solver, and could no doubt advance in his career by gaining mastery on the technical side, maybe coming back to leadership from that angle.  So now I had the positive, call-to-action destination for our conversation:  focus on using your technical strengths to help the organization, and you will be on a much more satisfying track to success.

Does this example sound familiar – have you ever delayed an important conversation because it would be difficult?  If so, hear are some steps that will help:

1.  Stop the negative self-talk!  Stop telling yourself, “I have to talk to Jim.”  The words “have to” are too passive, playing too much the victim.  Make a choice, step to up to assert control of the situation – tell yourself, “I choose to talk to Jim, because it’s the right thing to do.” [this concept inspired by the excellent book The Now Habit, by Neil Fiore]

2.  Identify your mission.  We must be very intentional about what we want out of a difficult conversation.  What emotional result, what follow-up actions – we want the individual to leave motivated to make a change with  enough hope and clarity to take specific actions in that direction.

3.  Do your homework.   It is likely that at team member needing course correction does not really see the key issues clearly – he/she is probably stuck in a confirmation bias where they only see the information that supports their current course.  So put together the clearest, most fact-based description of why change is needed, and why the new plan addresses the core issues.

4.  Choose your setting carefully.  If this is a meeting to motivate change but not to emphasize consequences, then choose a relaxed setting.  A meeting over coffee, for example, will make everyone less defensive.  If the time has come to paint a bleak picture, a more formal setting is in order.  You get the idea.

5.  Be prepared to listen.  What the team member has to say is critical to your understanding of the difficult issues – it may change your view of this situation.  Ask questions to search out his/her views.    Be open to new information which might help you influence things in a positive direction.

6.  Be brief, move toward action.  With all the preparation, be concise and clear.  Identify the situation, and then listen.  Move the conversation toward constructive action taking the team member’s views into account.

Not so painful, once you have a plan, right?  An effective, intentional discussion that leads to positive action.  Not a bad day’s work.

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One thought on “Quit Beating Around the Bush: 6 Steps to Making Difficult Conversations Successful (and Bearable!)

  1. Pingback: Difficult Conversations | likely Aptitude

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