Monthly Archives: October 2011

The ‘Breaking Down Walls’ Conversation

26 Oct
by Bridget DiCello

The ‘Breaking Down Walls’ conversation is one that has the potential to take working relationships to the next level.  You may have been in a situation that is not great, but is not that bad either, it’s just tense.  This tension happens routinely as part of one person interacting with another.  It becomes a problem when it is not addressed and there is nothing to ease the tension.

With that said, start by asking yourself these questions:

  • Is it important I break down this wall?  Or is it temporary and will go away on its own?
  • What created the wall in the first place?  Was it something I did?  Was it something they did?  Was it external to work?  Was it job pressure of some sort?
  • What is the opinion of someone I trust about the situation – do they think this is a real wall?
  • Where is this person coming from?

Walls can be a problem if they keep the work from being done and prevent positive results from being accomplished.  They can also be a problem if they cause an uncomfortable situation for those involved.  It is important to “clear the air” and often a manager can talk to each employee separately or the two together to mediate.  Talking to the two separately can put you in the position of each of them trying to win you over.  However, they may get very upset if confronted together.

The best way to deal with the situation is to first talk with each person involved and help them to understand their situation, assuring them you will not be the final judge, just the mentor and coach.  Help them to answer the questions above, keeping the conversation focused on them, how they see it, what they have done and what they can and will do differently.

Then, bring both the people together and set some clear ground rules to ensure they understand that this is not an opportunity to personally attack the other person, but a time to look at how the situation arose and what each person will do to diffuse it.  Keep the long term objective, company goals, customer service or similar end goal as the focus of why they need to work together better.

The Confrontation Conversation

26 Oct
by Bridget DiCello

The Confrontation conversation is dreaded by many because it may appear to start a “fight” that may or may not be necessary.  You may be tempted to “leave well enough alone”.  However, if you are forward looking and have a brighter future in your mind for what is possible, it’s essential.

With that said, start by asking yourself these questions:

  • Do I need to address this issue?  Choose your battles carefully.  A problem ignored can blow up later.  However, nitpicking every detail will wear out a relationship with an employee.
  • Am I the right person to address it?  Is there someone else to whom the employee reports on this issue?  Is there someone who has a better working relationship and is in an appropriate position to address it?
  • Is now the right time to address it?  Are they as open and receptive as they ever will be?  Will waiting let the situation get worse or the impact of the conversation be less?

When you address a situation that you expect to be confrontational, take a moment, which I call the Opportunity Space (the moment between when someone does or says something and you respond) and ask yourself The Three Questions:

  1.  What do I really want to accomplish in the long term?  Keep in mind your long term objectives and don’t be side tracked with emotions in the moment.
  2. Where are they coming from?  Why is it that they are doing the things they are doing?  What is their perspective?
  3. How am I making them feel?  However they are feeling is okay, so avoid telling them not to feel the way they feel.  It’s what they do as a result that can become unacceptable.

If the confrontation goes badly, you might need to take a break and come back and address it when emotions have calmed down.  If the employee gets worked up and emotional, keep in mind it might be a defense mechanism to avoid having the conversation.  In that case, any break taken should be short and have the specific purpose of giving everyone time to calm down and come back to finish the conversation productively.

The Accountability Conversation

26 Oct
by Bridget DiCello

The Accountability conversation is one of the most difficult and this is why it does not occur routinely in many companies.  This conversation is the one that comes before the disciplinary situation where you’d like to fire the person.  It comes during the normal course of doing business and should be an ongoing conversation.  It should not be a surprise if you have set the expectation that it is coming.

With that said, start by asking yourself these questions:

  • What is the specific unacceptable behavior that is causing the problem with performance?  Define the specific behavior and avoid accusatory adjectives like “grumpy, bad attitude, lacks initiative, lazy, etc.”
  • Does the employee know what the expectation is?  When have you told them and did they get it?
  • Has the current performance been acceptable in the past?  Still needs to be addressed, but this must be acknowledged.

Accountability works best when both the manager and the employee know it is coming, there is a set routine for doing it, and both people are involved.  These are the steps that are most important.

  1.  Be sure to clearly explain what is expected.  More detail may be required for some front line employees, where higher level employees may have more freedom in how to do the job and the expectation will be more about results.
  2. “Test” understanding.  Not by asking them to repeat what you said, but by asking a question that requires they speak about what they will do first, what they expect to be most difficult etc.
  3. Set a time and date for follow up.  And make sure they realize what they will have been expected to accomplish by that time.  This may be a specific result, progress they will have been expected to make or a task that should be finished.
  4. Stick with the time and date you establish.  At that time, ask them to report on their progress, without you having to prod with a million questions.
  5. Keep the accountability going by setting the next expectation and the next accountability date.  Have these types of conversations all the time, taking just a moment or setting a sit-down meeting.