The following three scenarios may sound familiar…..

That creative type: I thought I was ready. I carefully noted the main points I wanted to make about that one key area for improvement. This employee had the right attitude and brought high energy to the team. Her follow-ups on the other hand left much to be desired. She reminded me of me when I was less interested in a task. I learned to complete the task anyway. She on the other hand, put hers off and would move to another project and then another. Deadlines and deliverables were vague, and there was always a new flavor to sample. How could I have a genuine conversation without killing her enthusiasm and creativity?

Left holding the bag: I had done my homework: documenting the absences, the low productivity, the unfortunate belligerent attitude when questions were asked about what, where and when. I made sure to consult HR first, and was now ready to have the performance assessment conversation that her previous manager should have had with her years ago. My stomach was feeling queasy. I wasn’t sure I would be able to get past my introductory words without provoking an aggressive reaction, or quickly getting frustrated myself. Yet, I knew it was important for our team spirit, and for my sanity to have that genuine conversation. Would I be able to hold my own and state facts and consequences clearly and succinctly?

Having to let go: I was apprehensive. This excellent employee was threatening to leave for a bigger challenge, a promotion I couldn’t provide. We had been over that ground many times. There didn’t seem to be anything I could offer in my Division that could meet this person’s needs. There were no development assignments in other divisions, and this person was no longer willing to wait. My heart was heavy at the prospect of finding and training a replacement. How could I have a genuine conversation that wouldn’t sound like sour grapes and also enable me to engage this person in the training of his successor?

In all these scenarios, the temptation is strong to try to convince another to change, or see your point of view. After all, it’s for his or her own good, right? Or is it? And maybe his ‘own good’ is another direction all together. So the key to a fruitful conversation, regardless of the outcome, is preparation, which means setting a clear intention for myself, and deciding what hat I’m wearing, before stepping into the meeting.

1) Frame a broad Intention for the conversation. What do I really want from this exchange? It’s key for me to be clear about what I want before heading into the meeting. Let’s face it, I can’t control the other, even if I have the hierarchical authority. I can only express as clearly as I can;

  • What I observe
  • What I think and feel
  • What I need

And also leave room for engaging in a conversation about what my employee thinks, feels and needs.

Based on the above scenarios, my intention may be:

To have a dialogue with a positive outcome for both of us
To convey my position clearly and listen to her position and then come back later with a decision
To let him know that I will be terminating his employment or initiating disciplinary measures

2) What hat shall I wear? Am I a manager representing the best interests of the organization, a friend who wants to listen, a coach who is curious about what’s going on and what’s possible? These are different ways of showing up in a conversation, each bringing different values to the table. These approaches can certainly overlap, but be clear. It’s probably not a good idea to be a friend to someone you’re disciplining or terminating. You may feel compassion, but telling them you empathize may get you a pretty aggressive response. If you’re coaching to support an employee in discovering their own solution, probably best to refrain from imposing a 5 step plan for delivering on a commitment.

~ Dominique

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