Difficult Conversations

The Conversation You are Not Having

10 Sep
by Bridget DiCello

Complain, Complain, Complain

We complain because we have what we believe is a legitimate concern that we really want to see addressed.

We complain to those who we think care.  Because they are good listeners, because they react and/or empathize, or we believe they have the power to solve it.

And we complain to ourselves, because we will always listen!  Although this may get to the point of creating unhealthy and unproductive thought patterns.

Behind every complaint from you, to you, or from and to you, there is a conversation that you are not having with the person/people about whom the complaint revolves.

Why do you not address something that bugs you?  Let’s get the excuses out of the way.

Excuse:  “I can’t change them anyway!”

You are right.  You cannot change them.  Are you afraid they will change you?  They may change, but it will be because they want to.

Excuse:  “They’ll think I’m being petty.”

If something is very important to you, then it matters, and there is opportunity for synergistic greatness, even if it starts small.

Excuse:  “I don’t have the authority.”

So what?  Done right, you are a person concerned about something important to both of you – and you can make a difference.

Excuse:  “It will cause a rift in the relationship.”

Hasn’t it already, for you?

Excuse:  “I know what they are going to say already!”

Do you?  Great, then you can prepare better for the conversation.

Excuse:  “I’ll get upset once we start talking.”

So what is it that you need to do to maintain your peace during the conversation?  Do you know what brings you peace?

Take the bull by the horns

Have the difficult conversation.  Can you thrive on that conflict, out of which come their frustrations and ideas, and your frustrations and ideas – a combination full of opportunities for creation of something cool?  You have to believe that’s possible first!

Getting into the conversation can be the hardest thing to do.  Showing up is half the battle.  Decide to have the conversation, then be honest and phrase things in a way that avoids personal attacks.

What do you expect?

Setting expectations is very important.  Spend a moment determining your main objective(s) of the conversation.  If “…” happens, this will have been a success.  Keep your initial expectations to a very small step.  Those are very hard to take, and taking them will yield positive momentum.

“What’s really important to me in this conversation is…”  You cannot climb a mountain in one step – no matter how great of a climber you are.

Stop!  If the conversation is unproductive, agree to step away for a while, to think or to cool down.  Agree to do this if it becomes necessary, before you start the conversation.

Believe in Greatness!

Believe great things can happen – out of conversation and through the people with whom you are interacting.   The greatness you expect becomes the foundation for productive conversation.

Top 10 Rules for ‘How, not If,’ Conversations

15 Oct
by Bridget DiCello

How to address your biggest challenges, not If you will succeed. 

  1. Don’t “Should” all over them 
    When you want to say, “They should have…” question how clearly you have communicated what they should do.
  2. When we talk, “I will… and you will…” 
    Setting this simple agenda can clarify miscommunication, set expectations, and save a whole lot of time and frustration in conversations.
  3. Address the elephants
    Address those issues that fill the room with tension.
  4. Use the Opportunity SpaceTM
    In that moment between when someone does or says something and you respond, ask yourself what you really want to accomplish, where they are coming from and how you are making them feel – before you respond.
  5. Ask clarifying questions
    Get them to talk.  They think, engage and learn best when they talk, not when you do.
  6. There is always a good and valid reason
    For everything someone does and says – even if the resulting behavior is inappropriate.
  7. Listen with genuine interest
    To hear what is important to them, what they expect, and how they are thinking – all to be able to respond in a way that drives results.
  8. Take responsibility for your impact
    You can’t change how they react, but you can change how you approach them.
  9. Tell the truth, tactfully, with specifics
    Pinpoint the specific behaviors you wish someone who ‘lacks initiative’ to change.
  10. What will I and they do differently?
    Doing something small, but different, is what makes change happen, not repeating yourself, and ‘trying harder’.

Succeed by working to determine HOW you can address your biggest challenges, not IF you can overcome those obstacles.

No “Buts”

14 Aug
by Bridget DiCello

For the most part, when you are speaking with another individual, it is a good idea to remove the word, “but” entirely from your vocabulary.

You may be complimenting:

That is a great idea, but… [it’s really not a good idea, my way is better].

You may be concerned:

You’re doing a good job, but… [you stink! You are nowhere near good enough.]

You may be angry:

I told you to do this, but… [I wasn’t clear, but I don’t plan to admit it’s my fault].

You may be busy:

I’d love to spend time talking to you, but… [I do not consider what you have to say important].

“But” sends the message that the first half of your statement is insincere. We all say the word, “but” much more than we consciously know.

What to do?

Pause or use the word, “and”. It can make all the difference in the world. Don’t replace “but” with “however.” It softens the blow, but conveys the same harsh message.

When you pause, it also gives you an Opportunity SpaceTM to decide what you will say next, and how best to convey the message to you hope to convey.

The word “and” is inclusive, and while it provides you the opportunity to express your main point, it also allows you to acknowledge the current situation in the first half of your phrase.

You can also add small phrases to soften the delivery of your message such as “I’m wondering…” or “I may be wrong…” or “If I understand you correctly…”

For example,

“That’s a great idea, but what’s it going to cost?”

Instead, try:

“That’s a great idea, and I’m wondering what the cost will be.”

Another example,

You’re doing a good job, but your times are still way off.

Instead, try:

You’re doing a good job at [specific task], and I’m confident you can continue to improve your times.

Just for a day, track how many times you say, “but”. In a factual sentence, it may be very useful. However, in discussions with another person and about another person, it is rarely constructive. Replace “but” with a pause or “and”.

Navigating Difficult Conversations

31 Jul
by Bridget DiCello

A difficult conversation has a history, the beginning, the discussion, the discovery, the closing and the follow up.  In order to navigate these conversations well, you must move through each of the steps purposefully and successfully.

The History – It cannot be ignored.  People don’t easily forget if they’ve felt ignored, insulted, frustrated, demeaned, or pushed around.  Consider what the history looks like from their point of view.

The Beginning – How a conversation starts sets the tone.  Plan for the conversation.  Put a time on the calendar, share expectations and agree upon an agenda.  Then begin purposefully.

The Discussion -   Listen more than you speak.  Ask clarifying questions to get them talking in a focused manner.  Avoid exhibiting emotional reactions – you lose credibility.  Keep your focus on the goals of the conversation and speak about what needs to be done, not who is to blame or how they lack ‘initiative’ or ‘focus’.

The Discovery – Find areas of agreement.  Compliment their areas of strength.  Notice their skills.  Discover what is important to them.  Identify many possible outcomes and options – not just the best option.

The Closing – Decide what to DO next.  What will you do?  What will they do?  Identify specific items that can be completed in a matter of two to four weeks.  These may be small steps toward a larger goal.  Movement is good.

The Follow-up – Decide when you will continue the conversation.  Even if it is for a very brief, “All good?” conversation, acknowledge the need for that to happen to follow up on loose ends, ensure everyone involved feels the matter is resolved, and create a good history for the next conversation.

Which step do you dread?

How to Say “No”

07 Jun
by Bridget DiCello

What to Say?

First, gather enough information.  “Mike, I think I understand your request.  Can you share just a few more details of what you need from me?”

Then, frame it.  “Mike, I am hearing that this project is very important to Bob’s department, and to turnaround times.  This month, Mark has asked me to focus all my energy on the successful interactions with customers through our online systems.  I’m very excited about the opportunity to address some long-standing concerns we have heard from our customers.”

What you can do. “It would be early next month before I could start on that work for you, and I would estimate it would take about three weeks.  I know that Mary and Patrick are also experts in this area, and their schedules may be more free this month if you need it sooner than I can complete the work.  (Only say this if you know it to be true.)  What I’d be happy to do is have you circle back with me at the end of the month to revisit this priority.”

And, if you’re Mike, and don’t like that answer, you might say to you:

“Ryan, we all have a lot to do and turnaround time is everyone’s priority.  I really need to get this done and you and I have worked on it in the past!”

You feel Mike’s pain, but have a clear focus and path for the month, and in reality, his priority is not yours at this time. 

“You are right Mike, turnaround time is a priority and I have enjoyed working with you in the past.  The challenge is that this month, I have items that have been identified as higher priority in my calendar.  Would you like me to introduce you to some other members of the team who would be valuable resources for you since I am booked up?”

If you fail to clarify your goals for the month, and fail to say “No” to tasks outside your focus area, you will end up with too much on your plate, people upset with you more than they would of if you had found a way to say, “No” in the first place, and work that is not up to your quality standards.

I Can’t Say “No!”

05 Jun
by Bridget DiCello

Do you take on too much work and accept others’ requests when you really don’t have the time? And are you not able to do your very best work because you are doing too many things at 75%?

Why do you do this? Do you not want to say “No” because you don’t want to miss an opportunity? Or do you not want to let anyone down? Or do you just not know what words to say to communicate, “No!”?

What to do? First, clarify your areas of focus, your goals, and your strategies to get there. Then, consult those resources in order to make the best decision. Use your focus and goals verbiage in your “No” response.

Clear Goals and Focus

If you are very clear about your most important goals and your priorities for the month, and are excited and focused on them, then it is that excitement that causes you to decline or delegate tasks that are not in line with your plan. Your plan is ambitious and exciting, not limiting and holding you back. It guides your conscious choices of how to spend your time and energy.

Put People in their Place

People are important. Your success will require you to work successfully with others, value their contributions and respect their priorities. And you spend time with another person when your goals and focus overlap their goals and focus. Not necessarily when you are asked to take their priorities as your own. You may be asked by your customers or your supervisor to change your goals and plans and may need to do throughout the month. However, a lot of times when you fail to say, “No” it may be because you like the person and don’t want to disappoint them. But, you may disappoint them or another individual when you take on too much, and don’t do anything as well as you could.

What to Say?   First, gather enough information. “Mike, I think I understand your request. Can you share just a few more details of what you need from me?”

Then, frame it. “Mike, I am hearing that this project is very important to Bob’s department, and to turnaround times. This month, Mark has asked me to focus all my energy on the successful interactions with customers through our online systems. I’m very excited about the opportunity to address some long-standing concerns we have heard from our customers.”

What you can do. “It would be early next month before I could start on that work for you, and I would estimate it would take about three weeks. I know that Mary and Patrick are also experts in this area, and their schedules may be more free this month if you need it sooner than I can complete the work. (Only say this if you know it to be true.) What I’d be happy to do is have you circle back with me at the end of the month to revisit this priority.”

And, if you’re Mike, and don’t like that answer, you might say to you:

“Ryan, we all have a lot to do and turnaround time is everyone’s priority. I really need to get this done and you and I have worked on it in the past!”

You feel Mike’s pain, but have a clear focus and path for the month, and in reality, his priority is not yours at this time.

“You are right Mike, turnaround time is a priority and I have enjoyed working with you in the past. The challenge is that this month, I have items that have been identified as higher priority in my calendar. Would you like me to introduce you to some other members of the team who would be valuable resources for you since I am booked up?”

If you fail to clarify your goals for the month, and fail to say “No” to tasks outside your focus area, you will end up with too much on your plate, people upset with you more than they would of if you had found a way to say, “No” in the first place, and work that is not up to your quality standards.

Chain of Events for Obtaining Employee Feedback for their Evaluation

18 Apr
by Bridget DiCello

Here is the chain of events:

  1. You give them an evaluation form with a deadline of 48 hours to enter their input.  Encourage them to point out their own specific successes to take credit for them!
  2. You draft your evaluation feedback.
  3. They turn in their evaluation with specific examples of successes, and situations that did not go so well.
  4. They pinpoint two areas where they would like to focus on improving over the next year.
  5. You compare their input and your feedback and add their input to your form (the official one) as needed, becoming aware of where you might disagree significantly with the employee.
  6. You deliver their feedback using your copy, and file their self evaluation feedback in their file.

Top 5 Criteria for Great Performance Evaluations

17 Apr
by Bridget DiCello
  1. Use a form that makes sense.
  2. Require employee input for their professional development.
  3. Document very specific examples.
  4. Use metrics to support your feedback.
  5. Obtain commitment to do something differently.

The best performance evaluations are those that directly evaluate based on the job description tasks instead of rating employees from 1 to 5 on vague things like time management.  Regardless of what form you are required to use, start by looking at their job tasks, identifying specific things they do well and areas in which they need to focus or improve.  Brainstorm for specific examples of situations that demonstrate both their successes and their challenges.   This information can be used in just about any form.

The employee should also evaluate themselves.  I often have them complete the very same evaluation I am going to use.  If there is not a good form for the employee to use for self evaluation, ask them to simply email you five specific examples of times they were successful, and three specific examples of situations to support where they would like to improve their performance.  Give them a deadline early enough to be able to send it back for more detail.

Here is the chain of events:

  1. You give them an evaluation form with a deadline of 48 hours to enter their input.  Encourage them to point out their own specific successes to take credit for them!
  2. You draft your evaluation feedback.
  3. They turn in their evaluation with specific examples of successes, and situations that did not go so well.
  4. They pinpoint two areas where they would like to focus on improving over the next year.
  5. You compare their input and your feedback and add their input to your form (the official one) as needed, becoming aware of where you might disagree significantly with the employee.
  6. You deliver their feedback using your copy, and file their self evaluation feedback in their file.

If their job is based a lot on numbers, that’s great because it gives you the objective measurement of performance.  Beyond the numbers, and to support the numbers, you will offer your specific examples of when they did well, in other words, what they did to create the good numbers they have or how they handled a customer situation well.  Do the same thing for the not so good numbers.

The specific examples are what make the numbers come alive and become more personal.  Numbers on their own don’t say much, but talking through what makes the numbers what they are, how the employees contribute to the numbers and what they have control over will be significant.

Then, choose no more than 3-5 areas where you would like them to focus during the next 6-12 months (until the next evaluation).  These may be areas where they are strong and have great ability to get even better; could be places where they are failing miserably and need to get on track, or areas where you see greater potential than what they are putting forward – maybe they are scared to screw up or scared to push out of their comfort zone.   These are not 3-5 tasks.  They are areas broad enough to be the focus for 6-12 months.  Each month or quarter, you spend time with the employee to identify the specific tasks they are to do to make progress on the broad areas.

You determine these 3-5 areas based on your observations combined with their input.  Then, they come up with specific action items that they will implement in the next 30-90 days to make progress on these 3-5 areas.  These must be things that they will do differentlyTrying harder will not cut it.  They should come up with these, with your coaching assistance, buy in and commit to them.

Best Meetings – Small Scope, Big Expectations!

10 Apr
by Bridget DiCello

Have you ever been to or led a meeting that ran really long in an effort to make it through the whole agenda?  Or one that ended on time but most agenda items, including the ones you were interested in, were never addressed?

Every time you have several people in a room, you have multiple priorities, opinions, preferences and styles which will ensure that nothing will get done as quickly as you might be able to do alone.  However, the richness of those dynamics is worth the tradeoff, but your expectations must be realistic.

First, you must expect people to want to share their opinions and concerns, and time must be built into the agenda for that to happen.  If they are expected to simply sit and listen, then that must be communicated ahead of time to avoid frustrations.  If you’d like to guide their participation, add specific bullet points to the agenda to do so.

Then, you must define the scope of the meeting to be small enough to realistically be completed.  People like to walk out of a meeting feeling successful.  If your expectation of what you can complete in 45 minutes is always too high, and nothing ever seems to get resolved, your participants will get frustrated and productivity will decrease further.

Consider what you expect to accomplish; then break it into parts.  You wish to discuss Project A.  Project A has many parts.  Maybe the scope of the first meeting is to identify the main parts of the project, the key activities, define the milestones and the responsible people.  The responsible people could get together at a future meeting to discuss their individual accountabilities and timeframes.  Keep the scope manageable within in your meeting timeframe.

Small scope does not mean small expectations.  When you discuss Project A, your expectation may be that it is approached from several new directions, everyone contributes to identifying key activities, each person excitedly accepts a key role and milestones are clearly defined – which is a challenge in many companies.

In order to realize those expectations, they must be communicated prior to the meeting in a written agenda, and possibly an invitation phone call; must be reiterated in the agenda and at the start of the meeting, and revisited throughout the meeting as they are accomplished.

A small scope in no way means that very little will be accomplished.  It simply means that you will do an amazing job of discussing, brainstorming and working on results relating to a small piece of a larger puzzle.

If your meetings appear unproductive, remember Small Scope, BIG Expectations!

When the Conversation is Not over…

16 Mar
by Bridget DiCello

Hey!  Has anyone ever wrapped up a conversation you were not done having?  Have you felt like you were making progress in a discussion only to have the person to whom you were speaking decide the results were good enough and leave?

Results.  A good conversation has great results.  However, you cannot stay in a conversation forever, waiting for those great results to happen.  People wear out.  Some people will talk forever and never get to a solution.  Others will talk for a minute or two and be done discussing a situation.

Personalities.  Depending on which of those descriptions more accurately represents you, you might find yourself either ending a conversation when the person with whom you are speaking is not done, or needing a longer conversation than the other person is willing to tolerate.

If either person in a conversation is not done, that need must be identified and acted upon in order to bring about the long term results that you want.

What to do?

It’s okay to wrap up the conversation if time is up, either person needs to go, or one person is done.

It’s not okay to ignore someone’s need to continue the conversation at a later time.

It is a good idea to take a break if one person needs it, and acknowledge you are doing so in order to ensure productive use of everyone’s time.

It is not a good idea to leave without some type of summary.

It is a good idea to determine next steps for each meeting participant.

First, ensure you start the conversation with a clear goal in mind.  That goal can be referenced to keep the conversation on track, identify next steps, and if needed, determine the need, and the agenda, for a follow up meeting.

Then, when there is either 10% of the meeting left or when one person gets fidgety, start to summarize what has been accomplished, identify any unmet needs and schedule a follow up meeting if needed at a future date.  The steps each person will take before the next meeting, and the agenda for the follow up meeting should both be clearly identified, committed to and agreed upon.

Simply escaping a conversation does not mean it has finished, and could cost you a lot more time in the long run.

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