Difficult Conversation

Managers, the Goal for Difficult Workplace Conversations is not Personal Comfort…

It’s action and commitment

 

Manager Skills Boot Camp II: Improve your Difficult Conversation skills and more!

 

“An object at rest remains at rest until acted upon by an outside force.”Newton’s First Law

 

Grant is a steady performer; an overall solid team player. Ellen, his supervisor, has given Grant feedback several times that his work lacks attention to detail and the quality is often marginal. Grant’s behavior has not changed, so it’s time to have a difficult conversation that gently provokes him at his edge.

Ellen’s untiring feedback attempts to get Grant to improve have failed. Ellen needs to amplify her expectations and become the outside force. Intensifying one’s tone while being prepared for the consequences naturally stokes levels of stress and anxiety, both for Ellen and Grant.

A critical challenge for Ellen is to appreciate that tension is a resource to gently increase and manage, not avoid. Why? Tension and struggle are the universal energy sources for human growth, change, and transformation. The chick embryo must work and struggle to break free of the eggshell to become a healthy chick.

Grant must experience constant, gentle pressure to understand it’s in his best interest to change. Tension, when harnessed appropriately, creates awareness. Ellen must develop a *safe learning container to leverage the tension in pursuit of Grant’s development. It’s a classic manager’s paradox.

*If managers have not created trusted working relationships with their direct reports, these conversations are often emotionally difficult with messy outcomes.

 

“The challenge for leaders is to disturb or disrupt the movement at the edge to provoke the desired outcome.” -Per Bak, author of How Nature Works

 

Two Outcomes of Turning Comfortable into Uncomfortable

#1 Ideal Outcome: Grant takes 100% responsibility for his sub-par performance and sincerely makes a commitment to change. Most managers report a mere 10-20% success rate with this highly desired outcome. When this level of spirited partnership is achieved, managers call that a great day at work!

On the other hand, being overly attached to this outcome is often driven by the manager’s need for comfort and control. In order for the outcome to be ideal, this need should be relinquished.

#2 Acceptable Outcome: Ellen is leveraging her personal relationship with Grant to persuade him that it’s in his best interest to change. She’s selling, he’s not buying. Now she must pivot from expecting an ideal outcome to an acceptable outcome.

Grant commits to taking concrete and specific actions, including changing his behavior, and understands the consequences if he does not do so. This uncomfortable condition is known as agree to disagree. Ellen must be okay with the fact that he doesn’t share her belief. Her goal is to demand expectations that serve the company, not for her or Grant’s comfort levels.

 

So What Now?

Monitor, Measure and Provide Feedback

Ellen’s previous feedback attempts were based on hoping Grant would change. The Situational Leadership Model instructs Ellen to apply a much more direct style until Grant has made observable behavior changes. Being more direct is not Ellen’s default leadership style, but that’s not important. Ellen’s primary objective is to help develop Grant’s full potential. This is Servant Leadership at its core – the sincere desire to help others be their best. This leadership style says easy, does uncomfortable.

 

Sometimes Acceptable is…Acceptable

Few management situations are more frustrating then having a difficult conversation, especially when the employee digs in and says, “I disagree with your assessment.” Managers must develop the emotional fortitude to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Tension is not a condition to be avoided, but instead, constructively managed towards an acceptable, not perfect, outcome.

 

Keep it simple. Keep it focused. Definitely keep it inspiring! –Steve

 

Manager Skills Boot Camp II: Improve your Difficult Conversation skills and more!

 

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