Monthly Archives: July 2012

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?

Test Understanding – The Secret to Accountability

16 Jul
by Bridget DiCello

If you want to be able to hold others’ accountable, you must have something concrete to hold them accountable to.  Most of the time, people are held accountable to what you expect them to do or how you expect them to act.

This requires that your explanation of your expectations is very clear in the first place.  You can plan what you will say, outline your expectations and speak clearly and concisely, but you will not know if your message has been understood unless you test understanding.

The best way to test understanding is to get the other person to talk about what you believe they agree.  You could ask them to just repeat it back to you, but that is demeaning and doesn’t necessarily mean they really understand it.

Instead, ask open ended questions in a curious and nurturing way to get them talking so you can see what they are thinking:

  • What do you think is the best way to approach this?
  • What is the first piece you are going to tackle?  What is the first step you will take?  The next step?
  • What is your biggest concern about that?
  • When would you expect to have that part completed?
  • What do you need from me?
  • It needs to be done in 30 days; can you map out how you plan to schedule the work?
  • What is it that I can do to help/support you?
  • Why don’t you email me with your status update on Friday?
  • Is Tuesday after lunch a good time to stop into my office to share a progress report.
  • What do you expect to be the hardest/most difficult part?
  • What questions do you have?
  • If… then questions:  We can realistically expect [obstacle] to be an obstacle.  If that happens, what is your plan to address it?
  • What will you need to do differently than what you have been doing?
  • How will you approach this differently than the last project like this?
  • How do you feel we can do this even better/more successfully?

This does not mean that we fail to allow our employees to make intelligent decisions or have some freedom in how they operate. It does however, mean that if they are not doing what we expect, when we expect it, we must first go back and audit our own style of delivering the message in the first place.

By asking even just a few of these questions, you may either be pleasantly surprised with the plan in their head or shocked at how little they really understood the urgency, important milestones and timeline.

90 Day Reviews – Too Late!

05 Jul
by Bridget DiCello

A 90 day probationary period and review is customary in many companies.  And it may be company policy, so go ahead and follow it.  But, don’t expect it to be effective in the orientation or development of your new team members.

Ninety days is an incredibly long time to a new employee:

  • Many of their routines have been set,
  • their place in office politics has been initialized,
  • their best face is still on but they’ve figured out how things work and where they can cut corners (not necessarily to be lazy, just to get everything done)
  • they’ve accepted where they believe they can excel and what will be stumbling blocks
  • they’ve learned your style and what they think you expect, and
  • they are waiting to pass that 90 day mark, so they can let their guard down a little.

What’s so magical about 90 days?

Instead, the dialog needs to start during the hiring process, continue during orientation and turn into concrete, usable feedback very early in their employment.

What dialog? 

The conversation that communicates to an employee that we are excited to have you here, we’re energized about our ambitious company goals, we wish to help you best use and build upon your strengths, develop in your areas of weakness, access your potential and help you to continually contribute in new and exciting ways to this organization.

You do not want an employee to try their best, fail in several areas, hear at 90 days whether or not they still have a job, and if they do, worry about their review in a year, and hope they get a raise at that time.

At two weeks after their start date, every employee should receive written feedback about their progress.  This does not mean you expect them to know every task or be proficient at this time.  It is as simple as:

  • Here are three areas in which you have done particularly well in your first two weeks.
  • And here are three areas where I would like you to focus most in the next two weeks.

At four weeks of employment, they should again receive very similar written feedback.

This should continue monthly for 90 days.  This is an incredibly important time to build a foundation and set the tone.  Create the positive, determined and forward-looking dialog!