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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!

 

Managing a Tone-Deaf Boss Can Feel Like Riding a Cow…

The cow doesn’t want to be ridden and the ride is rough

 

Watch the complimentary webinar: Difficult Workplace Conversations

 

Growing up next to a farm with a tribe of reckless boys, I had lots of painful and failed attempts at riding cows. If you’ve ever tried this, you’d know that it feels pretty similar to “managing up” a tone-deaf boss.

 

Like cows, tone-deaf bosses:

  • Don’t enjoy be ridden (e.g. “managed up”).
  • Ensure the ride is very uncomfortable and possibly risky for you
  • Purposefully attempt to rub you off the fence
  • Will throw you off (Falling off a cow is like falling out of favor with your boss: Bruising and dangerous for your career)

Inversely, in-tune bosses are on high alert for shifting workplace discord and proactively engage team members in sincere two-way dialogue. These bosses are engaged, hands-on, approachable, and biased toward democratic action.

Safety is your #1 goal while riding a cow. The same goes for managing up: The psychological and political perils are many and often hidden.

 

Cow-riding tips and parallels to managing a tone-deaf boss:

Rule #1 – Try to minimize surprising the cow. Cows, like bosses, possess a survivalist brain that easily spooks into fight or flight.

  • Boss Rule: Schedule regular 1:1’s with your boss. I recommend at least 20-30 minutes every week. Provide a clear agenda in advance that is solution-oriented, sensitive to tight budgets, and demonstrates your clarity around key priorities.

Rule #2 – Never attempt to change a cow. A cow has gotten to where it’s at by being a successful cow; bosses too. Nothing yields rigid thinking and outsized egos more than historical success.

  • Boss Rule: Show that your riding attempts will be a win-win. Point directly to the green pastures on the horizon. Your boss needs assurances that your obvious persuasion attempts consider her best interests.

Rule #3 – Cows are stubborn negotiators.  An armful of freshly cut hay usually provides leverage.

  • Boss Rule: Most bosses can be swayed by strategic solutions that support her objectives and the organization’s priorities. Complaining without a clear business plan promotes resistance to your ideas. Just like cows, bosses will simply ignore you, stare you down, or become agitated by your anemic advances.

 

A tone-deaf boss is a major source of frustration for many dedicated employees. There is no ‘grass is greener over the fence’ strategy, but take it from an experienced cow rider: There are trusted rules for what and what not to do.

 

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

 

Watch the complimentary webinar: Difficult Workplace Conversations

 

How to Leverage Positive Conflict

Five Tips for Conflict Resolution

It’s quite apparent that conflict will happen within any team. The most intrepid manager-coaches know how to distinguish the difference between productive and destructive conflict, and foster the productive while stifling the destructive.  Successful implementation of this fundamental skill is conflict resolution.

The Small Business Chronicle defines constructive conflict as conflict that “generates productive, mutually beneficial, shared decisions.” Anyone who has attended one of my coaching workshops or webinars will recognize right away that difficult conversations which culminate in commitments to improve behavior or performance perfectly fit SBC’s definition. Often, destructive conflict stems from management’s shaping of the company environment and processes as one-size-fits-all. It’s vitally important for manager-coaches to remember that each team member needs personalized coaching styles and for company culture to reflect flexibility. Poor conflict resolution skills stem from poor empathy, lack of understanding, resistance to change, and feeling vulnerable. It’s management’s responsibility to remove these roadblocks.

 

“For good ideas and true innovation, you need human interaction, conflict, argument, debate.” -Margaret Heffernan, former CEO of iCast Corporation and MBA Lecturer

 

Here are 5 Tips to enhance your conflict resolution skills (Forbes):

  1. Define Acceptable Behavior – yelling, cursing, or shutting down is common but not acceptable
  2. Be Proactive – identifying potential sources of destructive conflict before they occur can be the best way to prevent a bad situation in the first place
  3. Walk in Their Shoes – try to understand the other person’s point of view and empathize with them
  4. Pick Your Battles – don’t look for conflict where none exists and know when to confront people (6pm on a Friday isn’t going to produce good results)
  5. View Conflict as Beneficial – an opportunity to improve is always a good thing, frame your conflict resolution in this way

 

It’s clear that conflict is beneficial to organizations when managed properly. And, since conflict is inevitable, the process of turning negative conflict into positive conflict is absolutely crucial for all manager-coaches. One of the best opportunities for positive conflict resolution can be found in difficult conversations about a team member’s work ethic or attitude. By using the above skills, a great manager-coach can pivot the conversation to make it constructive. Take your coaching to the next level by becoming an expert, watch the replay of the Managing Difficult Workplace Conversations webinar today!