Holding Tough Conversations

I have been studying the process and effect of holding tough conversations for the last decade.  I have found these tough talks to be uncomfortable but necessary.  We hold them because they matter and we care.  I have often said, “We don’t hold tough conversations about passing the ketchup.”  We hold them when we need or want something and it is not happening or not happening to our liking.  We hold them because there are unintended consequences for NOT holding them such as:

  • We harbor ill feelings
  • We stall progress
  • We damage relationships
  • We create things we do not want
  • We devalue ourselves and others

There are six steps we can use to help hold tough conversations.  They are:

  1. List all the possible outcomes
  2. Focus on the desired outcome
  3. Practice the conversation
  4. Concentrate on listening
  5. Ask more questions than you think necessary
  6. Come to an agreement on how to move forward

 

  1. List all possible outcomes. Take the time prior to having the tough talk to think about all the results that might be a product of the conversation.  Take your time to really envision what might happen.  Some of the reasons you are hesitant to hold the conversation lie in the negative fantasies about what may happen.
  2. Focus on the desired outcome.  Ask yourself which outcome you would like to achieve, then focus your thinking and the way you frame your words on that outcome.  It has been said that what you focus on expands.  Focus on the desired outcome you want, not the one you do not want.
  3. Practice the conversation.  Most people do not do this step.  They think it is a waste of time.  I have found it to be essential.  I advocate practicing the conversation OUT LOUD so you can hear what your own words may sound like to another.  This practice allows you to change words that may be less effective and modify tone and timing issues as appropriate.  It allows you to reflect on your intent and consider if the language and tone you are using replicates your intentions.
  4. Concentrate on listening. Most of the time when we are speaking, we tend to be forming our next comeback in our head instead of listening deeply to what the other person may be saying.  This is lethal when you are trying to have a successful tough conversation. We not only need to listen with our head, but we need to listen with our heart.  Eleanor Roosevelt said it best when she said, “To handle yourself use your head.  To handle others, use your heart.”
  5. Ask more questions than you think necessary. Often when we are in a difficult conversation, we need to make sure that we really do hear and understand the perspective of the person to whom we are speaking.  Rather than just assume we do, it is helpful to ask questions for clarification.  These questions help ensure everyone is on the same page and increase the chance of coming to agreement.
  6. Come to an agreement on how to move forward.  Before the end of the conversation, come to an agreement on next steps so that both parties are clear on how to move forward.  The fact that the conversation has taken place allows for the realization of new and creative outcomes.

Holding tough conversations is tough, but not holding them is tougher!

Holding People Accountable

Holding people accountable for getting the job done is one of the most misunderstood and difficult jobs a Manager needs to do.  There are a few things that typically get in the way of ensuring employees do what is expected of them and do it well:

  • They do not know how it fits into the vision.
  • They do not see the priority.
  • They do not know how to do it.
  • They do not like to do it.
  • The Manager does it for them since he or she wants it done “just so”.

Let’s address these points one-by-one to provide some simple ways for you to eliminate these issues should they occur.

  1. They do not know how it fits into the vision. When an employee is asked to do something, change something, or modify something, it is imperative that you provide the reason for the request, how the request will benefit the employee, how the request will benefit the company, and an understanding of the resources and timeframe needed to accomplish the request.  This helps the employee see how what they are being asked to do matters.
  2. They do not see the priority. If an employee does not see the priority of the request, they will tend not do it or put it off.  Ask the employee to consider the reasons why you are requiring the action and hold a discussion about these reasons.  In the discussion, emphasize the importance of each reason the employee provided and the unintended consequences of NOT doing the action.
  3. They do not know how to do it. Some employees do not know how to do what you have requested and are ashamed or fearful about bringing that up.  You must assure the employee, by modeling the behavior, that everyone (including you) continues to learn and that technical assistance and training is available if they need it.  You must be savvy in how you determine if it is a training issue or a defiance issue.  Training can be fixed.  Defiance must be removed.
  4. They do not like to do it. Sometimes employees just don’t like doing some of the tasks associated with their positions.  If that is the case, the tendency is to put it off or ignore it until it become a problem.  If possible, you can give the employee some leeway to work with others to partner on joint tasks. If that option is unrealistic, you can help the employee get the tough things done and out of the way so they can concentrate on the things they like to accomplish.  In addition, you can make sure you provide extra praise and incentives for doing the “disliked” tasks.
  5. The Manager does it for them since he or she wants it done “just so”. Whatever you do, do not do the job yourself.  This helps no one…not the employee, the organization or YOU.  You must let go and allow people to take a different road to the same destination.

Holding people accountable is about reframing tasks, holding conversations, sharing expectations, and allowing people to see their impact on the big picture.  Go for it!

Living in the Now

Most of you would like to experience each day with lightness, happiness and trust.  I know I do.    You might manage to do that some of the time, but often feel either sad and regretful of what has happened in the past, or worried, anxious and fearful of what might happen in the future.  Your thought process tricks you and you are caught up in a negative spiral that impacts your quality of life.  You are not living in the NOW.

The irony is that you may feel all of this is out of your control, when in fact, you are creating it.  No one else creates your thoughts or feelings.  Ultimately you have the power to un-create what is not serving you well.  Michel de Montaigne said it well when he said, “My life has been full of terrible misfortunes, most of which never happened.”

Many times my clients say, “But you don’t understand.  I didn’t do anything.  They did it to me.  I cannot help but feel this way.”  That victim mentality does not serve them well and creates a “habit” of blame, distrust, unhappiness and regret.  So what can be done?

The way the mind works depends on past experience.  We all take in information from the world and filter it though those experiences.  That is why two people can be talking about the same thing and see it from two very different viewpoints.  Reality is socially constructed.   Just look at the POTUS election if you have doubts!  Like changing a camera lens, we can decide on the view we desire, wide-angle or zoom.  We just need the tools to slow ourselves down and reframe our thinking.  We need to live in the NOW.

The following tools may be useful in moving from fear of the future or regret from the past to the NOW.

  1. Use your feelings (sadness, anxiousness or unhappiness) to help figure out what thought drives those feelings. Typically, it is something, “I won’t have enough money this month.”, “My boyfriend will probably leave me.”, “I am not good enough to apply for that job.”
  2. Once you have identified the thought, ask yourself to come up with a counter thought that is more productive such as, “I can make it through the month if I am careful.”, “We are having a great time and my boyfriend says how much he cares for me all the time.”, “I have no real idea what the company is expecting, but I have a wealth of experience that may serve them well.”
  3. These thought will help you get back to the NOW. There is no need to fear the future (it does not exist) or regret the past (it is over and done).  Take a deep breath and examine your new feelings.
  4. Move! Do something with your body to get out of your head.  It can be exercise of some type that you really need to think about to execute. When you are putting your thoughts on what you are doing at the moment, you are living in the NOW.
  5. Practice gratitude. Being grateful is a great way to replace a negative thought with more positive energy.

Once you start living in the NOW you become lighter, more focused, playful and trusting.  Happiness follows close behind. You have the possibility to “provide new ways of thinking to create new ways of doing.”

Ride the Horse that Shows Up

In my years as an equestrian, I learned early on that the best laid plans for a ride depend on the horse that shows up.  You may have plans for your ride, but the horse is lame, in a sour mood, tired, or just plain obstinate.  The smart thing to do is to abort your prior plans rather than fight the entire time and not accomplish anything.

The same is true for an OD (Organization Development) consultant.  We all have our bag of tricks and the tools and techniques we know, but it does a great disservice to the organization to suggest a tool, training, or intervention just because we have it developed, had intended on it working, or just don’t want to abort our prior plans.  I have seen this happen repeatedly and, just like the example with my horse above, trying to force fit an intervention does not provide anything of value to the organization and may even do some harm.  That is one of the reasons I strongly oppose “off the shelf” products unless a comprehensive needs assessment has been conducted and the product or service identified fits the organization’s needs “to a t”.

So, what are the steps to take to ensure you are providing the right service to your client?

  1. Listen from the Start: Listen for subtle signs of potential issues so you can respond accordingly.  It is far better to listen more and talk less at the initial meetings. There will be subtle clues about what the issues may be that you will not be able to identify if you are taking up all the air space by sharing your own brilliant thoughts.  Look for nonverbals and notice who is contributing and who is not.
  2. Define the Objectives: The initial meetings will help you define the objectives.  A few helpful questions to draw out the client’s objectives may be:  What do they want to happened or occur?  What are their expectations?  What is preventing them from getting this done without your help?
  3. Talk to More People than the Boss: It is essential to hold interviews or focus groups with several organizational players so you can be sure to understand the organizational reality from their perspectives. This will help you identify the real issue (not just what the sponsor or management says the issue is).
  4. Put Together Your Recommendations: Develop a plan of action.  Once you get the lay of the land through the interview process, you will be able to draw on your expertise and develop next steps.  Present the issues that emerged from the data and share possible scenarios for moving forward that you believe will get the organization closer to the objectives they shared at the onset of your involvement.
  5. Stay Flexible: Constantly adjust.  An organization is a living entity.  Once you have reviewed the recommendations with the organization, co-develop the actions to be implemented and allow the organization a role in the interventions.  Be willing to adjust to the ebbs and flows of the process and constantly check in with the client to ensure you are heading in the same direction.

You must ride the horse that shows up just as you must work with the organization as it is, not as you would like it to be because you have a pre-selected fix.

For more information on identifying organizational needs, contact Dr. Jennifer Wild at 703-869-9182.

Coaching Off the Grid

Today, coaching is viewed as an important process employers can use to help address performance issues and ensure every employee provides the company what it needs.  Most importantly, coaching, on a regular and informal basis, can provide employees the extra incentive and guidance they need to be successful.

In my years as a business owner and executive coach, I found that informal (off the grid) coaching opportunities are often the most successful in addressing issues before they become big problems.  Skillful coaching can address improvement needs, ensure right behavior, and/or thank an employee for a job well done.

There are a few steps in holding an off the grid coaching session that I would like to share.

  1. Be sure you are in a private area. Holding a coaching session in a hallway where others can observe or eavesdrop is not beneficial to you or the employee.  Either invite the employee into your office (this can be intimidating), go to their office area (better), or ask them to take a walk with you around the organization (best).
  2. Establish the subject of the conversation. Ask the employee what their top issue is and what challenges or successes they have experienced of late.  Ask them to describe why the issue is so important and how solving it would benefit them.  If this is something you would like to bring up, ask permission to hold the discussion.  This helps instill trust and buy-in.
  3. Help the employee discover alternate perspectives. During the discussion, ask the employee what they think should happen.  If they did not need to worry about a future outcome, what would they do?  Ask them to think about the issue from multiple perspectives.  How would it look if they were the client?  The boss?  Their own subordinate?  What would they do in each of those instances?
  4. Develop next steps. Once the employee determines the outcome they would like to see, help them decide the steps to get there.  What would happen first, second and third?  How can they get started?  What do they need from you?
  5. Help the employee overcome fear of failing. Sometimes people do not act for fear of failing.  Ensure the employee that it is OK if things do not work out as planned (really mean this one…punishing mistakes discussed in this coaching session would be a killer to your relationship with the employee and very harmful to the culture of the organization).  Ask the employee to identify what may be preventing them from moving forward and what you can do to help remove any challenges.
  6. Establish a future “touch base” time. Set a time to check in and see how the employee is handling the issue they identified.  Hold yourself accountable for providing support and helping remove the challenges you promised.  Ask the employee how the process worked for them and what you can do to make sure they meet their goals and achieve success.

Once you establish these off the grid coaching sessions, you will find employees more willing to come to you on their own to discuss issues, opportunities, problems or challenges.  Your input and guidance is not feared but embraced.  You are on your way to developing a culture that is open, innovative and continuously improving.

For more information or training on Coaching Off the Grid, contact Dr. Jennifer Wild at 703-869-9182.