Is The Risk Too High?
Imagine you have a meeting with the intention of severing ties with an employee, only to find out the employee knew it was a bad fit and he just wanted to find a way to extract himself without losing face. Now imagine how long you had put off that dreaded meeting.
You did, right?
Do you avoid leading potentially difficult conversations? Are you avoiding one right now?
Every time you steer clear of a crucial conversation you are adding to your list of frustrations. Here are some examples of dialogue situations you and your peers often prefer not to engage in:
• Your boss is not listening to you at all, resulting in possible harm to clients, patients, customers or other stakeholders. He thinks he is right, maybe even righteous, and he thinks he is listening well.
• Your colleague is vying for attention from your boss, resulting in missed career opportunities for you and everyone else. Doesn’t he realize he is stabbing everyone else in the back?
• Your employee is bullying the rest of the team, resulting in silenced, victimized team members and reduced morale. According to him, everyone is at fault but him.
• Your client keeps nagging you, resulting in you not even wanting to engage any longer. What makes him entitled?
• Your wife is 99% focused on the kids and not engaged in adult activities with you any longer, resulting in loneliness. What happened to the relationship?
• Your spouse is more change- and risk-averse than you are and needs more time to process the changes you want to initiate. How can you get buy-in?
• Your teenage son is engaged in risky behavior and no longer talks with you at all. How can he succeed and how can your relationship ever heal?
If only one of the examples rings true for you, you owe it to yourself to keep reading. The higher the emotional stakes, the more likely it is you are avoiding a crucial conversation. The consequences can be severe.
Skilled leaders find a way to get all relevant information (from themselves and others) out in the open. Effective communicators are routinely able to achieve this by having constructive dialogue. Developing the skills to have safe conversations around difficult topics and arriving at a common understanding is not that hard, but it does take practice.
Download the free Coaching Template to prepare for crucial conversations and I’ll walk you through how to use it right now. When we are done, you’ll be much better prepared to have the crucial conversation you have been putting off. Ready? Let’s dive in.
“The key skill of effective leaders, teammates, parents, and loved ones is the capacity to skillfully address emotionally and politically risky issues. Period.” —Crucial Conversations
Your Crucial Conversation
The number one conversation every leader dreads is the ‘talk’ to terminate an employee. All of my clients share how much they avoid having to tell someone they are fired. Often they know it’s inevitable, but they just haven’t done it. The reasons are endless and often reasonable; nonetheless, they are mostly excuses and expressions of hope. “Maybe he will learn how to be and act like a senior vice president rather than a vice president.” Or, “What if she actually learned from this mistake? She does have a lot of other great qualities.”
Eventually, you as the boss have to draw the line and have the crucial conversation – the talk. To prepare for it, here is what you want to take a look at:
Start With Heart (before)
You have been interacting with the employee in a certain way. Ask yourself about your own behavior. Knowing your expectation, have you given her the support and guidance she deserves? What do you REALLY want? What do you want for yourself? What do you want for the employee, honestly? And what do you want for the relationship, now and into the future?
Equally important is to explore what you don’t want. It’s much like a game of hot and cold: Moving away from what you don’t want and toward something you do want.
Being clear on your own intentions and desires is essential. I can’t stress this enough.
Become Aware (before)
Most likely you have been in difficult conversations before. Maybe even with the same individual. Now is a good time to examine how those conversations went. At what point does the exchange become almost unbearable? Watch for patterns in how the conversation comes about and how it typically unfolds. Are you the one who becomes loud and boisterous almost to the point of being aggressive? Or are you the one who retreats and remains silent? Observe mentally how you have been behaving in difficult conversations. And be honest with yourself. Don’t judge yourself, just observe the pattern in your mind.
What are you observing about how the other is typically responding? Who is aggressive and who is threatening? Who is stressed? What causes the stress? Fact or fiction?
Make it Safe (before/during)
No conversation will be productive and meaningful if the space isn’t safe. What do I mean by that? I am not talking about the environment in which the conversation takes place, although that is something to consider. Privacy and shelter are important.
What I am talking about is the safety between you and the employee. The prospect of getting fired and being out of a salary is threatening to people. It’s very scary. The fear of divorce is enormous; safety goes out the window instantly. The fear of betrayal is rampant in corporations. Who can you trust? Really?
Therefore, it is up to you to think how you can create safety for the crucial conversation. Maybe it is your turn to apologize for something. Are there misunderstandings that if cleared up would improve the situation dramatically? What apparent threat can be taken off the table immediately? For example: “Honey, I am sorry if I gave you the impression that I might want a divorce. I don’t. I love you. And I want to work on improving our relationship. Can we work on this together?”
Master Your Story (before)
We make meaning through the stories we tell others. And we create meaning through the stories we tell ourselves. What is your narrative?
There is a real possibility that you are contributing to the problem at hand. It’s easy to dismiss it and blame the other person. We don’t want to feel guilty. And yet we are almost always contributing to the issue by the sheer fact that we are in relationship with the other person. Ask yourself what you’re bringing to the situation. And be honest with yourself. If you are not sure, ask a bystander for honest feedback.
As much as you don’t feel that way, you are in the driver’s seat. It’s time to ask yourself the right questions for you to take action and move forward.
State Your Path (before/during)
Be open in the conversation to rewrite your narrative based on the feedback you are receiving from the other person. Most likely you are not aware of something. What is it?
Are you open to the other? Are you dancing around the subject or naming the elephant in the room? How confident are you about having the right answer or being right?
Explore Others’ Path (before/during)
Think of the employee you are considering firing. Put yourself in her shoes. What does it feel like for her? Have you been honest and direct with your assessment of her performance? What disagreement have you just been ignoring and not addressing head on?
We live in a hectic and fast-paced time. No doubt about it. It is your responsibility to address issues directly and early. It’s not always easy, though. Take inventory and be honest with yourself. You can only get to the bottom of this by engaging in real dialogue with the person. Ask yourself what you are assuming and then test if that is really true.
Move to Action (before/during)
Procrastination is prevalent. We can find a million excuses to not have this crucial conversation in the first place. But now that you have done your homework with the help of the Crucial Conversation Template, you are ready to take action. Book a time to have the ‘talk.’ Give the other person a chance to prepare as well. Tell him or her that you want to talk about x and that you don’t know where it will lead, but you want to explore the topic. Set a time where there aren’t any distractions.
Agree with the other person about next steps. Who will do what? When? Establish a way to follow up, with concrete actions or another dialogue around the same topic.
Important: Don’t be attached to the outcome. This is a dialogue and by definition you are creating the conversation together. Listen to connect, not to judge or reject.
Imagine you have an employee meeting with the intention on severing the ties to find out that the employee knew it was a bad fit and he just wanted to find a way to extract himself without losing face?
Time to take action: Get the Coaching Template to help you sort out your thoughts Then have the talk.
You’ll get proficient and even adept at handling these over time and the dread will disappear.
“The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes of mind.” –William James
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