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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!

 

Create Compelling Sales Urgency, NOT Sales Pressure!

TWO Sales Skills to Help Build Urgency for Change

A sales cycle that drags on without a solid buying decision greatly lowers the probability that a positive purchase will eventually occur. The long, exhausting hunt often results in returning home with just a goose egg.

How can you create compelling urgency rather than aggressive pressure to positively influence a buying decision? The TWO Sales Skills below will help you create a methodical sales process that mitigates the relentless and cruel march of sales time.

 

The Status Quo is the enemy, not your competitor’s price. It’s not news that most people have a strong aversion to change, especially if there is a perception of risk involved. The thinking goes – my current situation may be undesirable and stressful but at least it’s familiar. Your process should fixate on creating the urgent conditions necessary for buyer behavior change. Behavioral science supports this universal human condition of possessing a strong aversion to loss, as captured by this quote:

“Losses make us hurt more than gains make us feel good.” -D. Kahneman and A. Tversky

 

TWO Core Sales Skills* for Creating Compelling Sales Urgency:

*It is assumed that the rep has built a trusting, credible relationship with the prospect or buyer before attempting to dive too deep and too soon into a customer’s business. If not, your approach is guaranteed to feel pushy, disrespectful, and your sales attempts will be rejected. Your humble intention to help, not sell, must shine through.

#1 – Find painful (e.g. expensive) problems to solve. Every prospect and business owner has lots of problems, just like you and me. However, there is often a singular one that is most costly. Find it. No serious problem = no serious pain. No pain = no urgency. No urgency = no solution, and you return home with yet another goose egg.

This says easy, does hard. You must be patient, persevere and be willing to be comfortable being uncomfortable while the prospect or buyer mulls over and quietly marinates in their current dilemma. Your penetrating questions, however, foster the crucial tension, or compelling urgency, that begins creating cracks in the formidable status quo.

#2 – Help prospect or buyer convincingly answer – “Why Change?”

Your non-aggressive persistence has paid off – the buyer, with quiet introspection, admits how her actions keep leading to the same discouraging business results. You can relate to her, as every business has their share of festering problems.

 

Behavioral change is often preceded by pain; this vital knowledge directs our sales process.

 

Gently, yet assertively (never aggressively) help the customer feel the pain of their key problem. Simple, insightful questions help facilitate the buyer’s thinking about the very real costs associated with the current situation:

  • What is the business cost of your current situation?
  • What are the non-financial costs of having this problem?
  • What benefits would you achieve if this problem were solved?
  • What would happen if you simply chose not to address this problem?
  • How does this situation prevent you from reaching your goals?

Humans’ natural bias for the status quo is a formidable sales foe. The science of human influence and change strongly suggests that our sales approach creates the prime conditions for change: compelling business urgency and pain. These two core sales skills are instrumental in facilitating this change process.

 

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

 

You cannot control time but you can control your focus in each sales conversation! Make a mid-year resolution to invigorate your sales process with a purposeful sense of urgency and disciplined approach that steadily raises alarm bells that the status quo is unsafe and dangerous. The two skills above are fundamental for creating the conditions of buyer behavior change.

It should be noted that these skills remain relevant but are often insufficient for more complex B2B (business to business) sales where products can be expensive or have lengthy implementation steps.

Future sales topics will examine additional skills critical for keeping sales time AND momentum on your side!

As always, check out the resources page for some helpful tools and additional information to further your goals.

 

Keep it simple, keep it focused, and definitely keep it inspiring!  -Steve

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!

Time Is On Your Side…if focused properly

Busy managers can still be great coaches!

According to the Harvard Business Review, great managers “discover what is unique about each person and capitalize on it.”  This is precisely what differentiates mediocre managers from amazing manager-coaches.  But it’s often hard to judge how to best divide your workday between managing a budget, daily operations, and a team.  The answer: Do all of the above!

Forbes suggests that there are 7 qualities that good managers possess:

  1. They Love the Company Culture
  2. Their Positivity is Contagious
  3. They Sustain Focus
  4. They Listen to their Head and Heart
  5. They’re Honest
  6. They Take Accountability
  7. They Make Decisions

Notice that not a single one of these qualities is about managing finances or operations.  Each and every one of these qualities can be categorized into one super-quality: team building and relationship management.  Okay, technically that’s two super-qualities but the point remains the same: these two super-qualities are absolutely necessary for managers, and by association their teams, to excel in any business.  Yet, too often managers are obsessed about their financial goals, budgets, technical operations, and a million other things they have on their plate.  The key is that successful managers must find quality time to coach their team members.

The necessity of effective coaching has been widely established as the route to achieving that managerial excellence so often talked about.  In fact, Purdue University issued a public memo to their supervisors outlining that “coaching is an ongoing, two-way process that involves using constructive, consistent feedback to reinforce positive behavior or to counsel employees, resulting in improved performance.”  And, improved performance always means better business!

Never forget that your team is the lifeblood of your organization; often the people you manage are the only people customers will ever face.  In an ideal world there would never be the need for management intervention with a customer because your team would be fully equipped with all the skills, confidence, and authority they’d need to satisfy every customer need.  Of course, the world isn’t perfect but great manager-coaches strive to achieve perfection and impart that value on their teams!

“But I’m so busy; how can I take the time to consistently provide feedback?” -Manager X

If you’re near the Asheville, NC area on June 1st, 2017 then you’re in luck!  Steve will be conducting Workplace Coaching Skills for the Busy Manager to answer this very question!  This highly engaging workshop will teach managers how to be better coaches and leaders for their teams and their organizations. Effective and inspiring managers are key drivers of employee engagement. Participants will gain clarity on how their capacity to grow and develop their people is central to attracting, engaging, and retaining top industry talent. People rarely quit a great boss, but they often quit mediocre managers. This workshop will help the dedicated manager be a great leader and coach. Steve looks forward to seeing you on June 1st!

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Keep it simple, keep if focused, and definitely keep it inspiring! – Steve

Managers Should Pay Their Career-Aiding Feedback Forward

Many leaders credit receiving a critical, and often tough, piece of feedback during their developing career as contributing to their current success.

For example, “You know, Kim, I can tell I’m not really getting through to you. I’m going to have to be clearer here. When you say um every third word it makes you sound stupid.” Kim Scott, author of Radical Candor, shares this stinging feedback that she received from her then boss at Google, Sheryl Sandberg.

Scott suggests replacing the word feedback with guidance because who doesn’t resonate with that?

Reverse engineering great feedback, like Sandberg’s, reveals these core elements:

  • Honest
  • Direct and candid
  • Caring
  • Example-driven (usually with facts from past performance and observations)

Like Scott, are you beholden to a mentor or boss who cared enough to shine a bright light on a blind spot or a potentially career defeating behavior? I recently received a radically candid piece of feedback from a VP of sales: “Your self-deprecating humor undermines your credibility and makes you look weak.” Ouch, but thank you.

In those moments, feedback— err, guidance— feels less like a gift and more like a vaccine shot. If the individual internalizes the medicine they build immunity to behaviors that may no longer serve them. Thanks to the guidance this VP shared with me, I have severely cut back on my inward-focused humor and am grateful for the advice.

However, many of these same gifted bosses who have benefited from such feedback report that their biggest management shortcoming is providing the same guidance to their direct reports. It’s perplexing, but reasonable to conclude that receiving career enhancing feedback doesn’t translate to naturally being effective at this key management skill yourself.

We know most managers don’t like giving feedback and most employees complain they receive too little. This counter-productive dynamic becomes self-reinforcing. Managers quickly offer a host of reasons for not providing more consistent and direct feedback. A common justification, burned in most of our memories runs along this theme— I gave candid feedback one time and the employee called HR charging me with creating a hostile work environment. Who wants to touch that hot stove again, right?

My coaching to managers is to stiffen up and pay it forward! Embody the ethos of the person who made a difference for you. While guiding those who report to you may take you out of your comfort zone, and almost feel confrontational and unpleasant, this feedback and discipline could steer that person onto a better path within their career. Consider the cost of not sharing your observations and how overlooking these potentially damaging and negative behaviors will affect your professional relationship, and their ability to self-reflect and move forward.

Potent coaching questions, like radical candor, can also cause useful cognitive dissonance. 

An accomplished and well-respected leader shared with me an early development epiphany. He was asked, “What are you known for?” He confidently blurted, My strategic technical abilities,” quickly summarizing his analytical prowess. The follow up question, What else are you known for?” however, hit him like a ton of bricks because, as he says, “I couldn’t think of one leader I respected known only for analytical skills.” Two simple, direct questions ignited his commitment to be known for many, not one, leadership capability and charted his path for being a widely respected and gifted leader today.

The objective is to candidly address issues or behaviors, not tear people down.

Avoiding tough issues is a management sin. But confronting situations by asking sincere, open questions can foster the psychological safety critical to an honest, respectful dialogue. Begin building your leadership legacy by developing a reputation for growing tomorrow’s leaders. Pay forward the servant leadership that enriched your career and life.

 

Keep it simple, keep if focused, and definitely keep it inspiring! – Steve

 

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www.steverudolphcoaching.com/training-resources

Please drop me an email with a question or comment:

Steve@steverudolphcoaching.com

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