Five Solutions to Tough Conversation That Work
All great leaders have tough conversations; career success demands them. The more impact you have the tougher the conversations become.
The path to career advancement begins with technical skill and then moves to social/relational skills. The third step in advancement is developing managerial skill. The pinnacle is toughness skills.
A powerful secret.
Successful C-level leaders have learned the secret of having tough conversations while maintaining positive, productive relationship.
10 Topics of tough conversations:
- Performance issues
- Employee conflicts with each other
- Behaviors and attitudes that stress office relationships
- Violations of policies and procedures
- Offensive language
- Gossips, whiners, and backstabbers
- Blaming and excuse making
- Discipline, probation, and termination
Five dynamic solutions to tough conversations.
- Create a dynamic culture of excellence where feedback is normal, expected, and welcomed. For example, have curb-side debriefs after sales meetings. Perform after-action reports where after-action questions are known before projects begin.
- Establish clear, measurable targets. Clarity enables success, fuels motivation, and informs accountability.
- Focus on organizational mission not individuals.
- Commit to every employee receiving feedback every day. Employees complain they don’t receive enough feedback; give them 60 second bursts.
- Employ the four to one rule; four positives for every negative.
Three clear stages to every tough conversation.
- Prepare the beginning. Say the words out loud to yourself. How do you sound?
- In the middle use questions, clarification, observations, and finally statements. Come to solutions, when possible, together.
- End by agreeing on the problem, explain solutions in clear behavioral terms, define consequences, setup a follow up.
Behind mediocrity is a tough conversation someone didn’t have. It may be as simple as saying no. Running from tough conversations creates environments where feelings rather than mission control organizational culture.
What type of tough conversations are you having?
What strategies help you succeed with tough conversations?
Great post (as usual.) I especially like your statement that behind mediocrity is a tough conversation someone didn’t have.
My approach to tough conversations is simple. Somewhere near the beginning, I restate the expectation. Best is if I can actually read it from the employee handbook. Then I ask, “How do you think we’re doing as a group on that?” The answer will reveal if the person somehow things corporate culture permits his/her actions, and let’s me know if I’m in for a “But so-and-so does the same thing.” argument. Then I ask, “How do you thing you’re doing?” They tell me, and then I tell them what I’m seeing or hearing. This approach focuses the conversation on a previously-established expectation, and lets the employee go first.
It may not work for everyone, but I recently docked a guy’s pay and he thanked me.
I really like these tips. I am less technical, though when it comes to thinking them through. I will try to relate hearing tough conversations to myself. I can hear tough words only when I know the person speaking GENUINELY cares for me and will go the mile with me rather than hanging me out on the line to dry (alone). Words from the heart enter the heart. The trick for the person delivering tough information is to stay centered, and to inform his or her emotions with intellect rather than speaking straight from an emotional reaction.
“Behind mediocrity is a tough conversation someone didn’t have. It may be as simple as saying no. Running from tough conversations creates environments where feelings rather than mission control organizational culture.” This quote will be circulated….a lot. Sums up many issues we have within organizations, and truth be told within our families.
My only question is what happens when they do not agree to the problem? They either don’t see it as a problem, or don’t see how it relates to what’s going on.
We can only control our own behaviour. Not that of anyone else. I liked the quote too but is it about me and the fact I need to initiate and manage the tough conversations.
With respect to the other’s response and subsequent behaviour it may be worth exploring how you could influence them? Are there power and influence strategies you could use?
I really enjoy reading this blog each day, and today was no exception. I do not accept mediocrity and try t always have those tough conversations. Great read today!
Once again, this was great post. It seems like you are in my office watching me, your blogs seem so timely. I have found the heart behind the tough conversations, that true integrity that says you really want to help, shapes the outcome. Asking the probing questions, listening and getting to the question behind the answer is the most valuable tool. When they know you care, but there are standards (its not personal) the results can be amazing.
Having coached many leaders with their tough conversations, I can say from their experiences that strategic preparation is key. When people can think out and if possible practice what they plan to say and how and also, how they will respond to possible push back, etc., there is usually high success.
Some suggested things to think out before tough conversations:
What outcome do you want?
What messages do you want to convey?
What do you want to be most prepared for, that the other person may say or do?
What is likely to be most important to him/her by the end of this conversation?
What will you not say or do?
What tone, manner, body language will you use?
I was intrigued with the comment to give feedback in 60 second bursts? This is non-conventional and am looking forward to some suggestions on how to go about that.
Your comment …..
“Behind mediocrity is a tough conversation someone didn’t have. It may be as simple as saying no. Running from tough conversations creates environments where feelings rather than mission control organizational culture.”
Really hit home….. There were many tough conversations that should have been held with a particular employee that never were. As a result their mediocre performance simply became worse and worse. Feelings were dominant and drove unhealthy and unprofessional behaviours. A vicious cycle was set up and continually reinforced (over years). The line manager changed a month ago. Tough conversations started. I assisted interviewing for a replacement last week.
Dan, I certainly agree with the heart of the post, if you’re going to be a leader, you need to handle tough conversations well. I love the quote about mediocrity…when we didn’t care enough about another’s performance to give them the information they needed.
I would also add to the “solution” section the need to ask questions that force the other person to self-evaluate. With behaviors that have a pattern it is vital that they see it. By knowing or clarifying what they want from the job, and how they would define their success, you have a context from which to ask, “Is your current behavior/issue with ______ helping or hurting what you want to achieve?” There are a slew of other questions. The point, having THEM see clearly the affect of what they are doing creates motivation from within to solve for the information you have delivered. If all we ever do is tell them, however, we may never know what THEY understand and how motivated they are to fix the problem.
Believe it or not – one of the best preparations for tough conversations is a good night’s sleep. You need to be rested to keep your own emotions under control – whether it’s anger, resentment or fear.
Laying the ground-work for tough conversations is to start as you mean to go on…promote and role-model open communication, frequent communication, openly seek feedback, and provoke constructive conflict with others. A sense of humor about all of it helps as well to relieve the tension surrounding emotional issues.
Thanks for the post, Dan. I am sooooo jealous of your talent. Good luck to all of us in leading tough conversations.
Great post Dan!
As a manager i have through each of the top ten….succeeded and failed in each but learned a tremdous amount of wisdom. The key to avoiding tough conversations is being proactive in what you mentioned…clarify, clarify, clarify!
Fire quickly … hire slowly. And, having tough conversations sooner rather than later not only builds trust, it builds credibility, especially with your team.
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I completely agree with what you have written. I hope this post could reach more people as this was truly an interesting post.