I’ve had a lot of discussion with colleagues on how they conduct crucial conversations with a team member, and what I find is that there is a lot of concern with how to do it correctly. How do I get my message across without them getting defensive? How do I get them to see there is a problem in the first place? How do I guide them on a path to correct the problem?
These conversations are stressful and quite frankly suck, but they are essential. Having these uncomfortable discussions are what separates the bosses from the leaders. You want them to grow not to “just do it already.” If your goal is for them to improve, you cannot do it without active coaching.
I’ve had several of these conversations in the past, both giving and receiving, and I can tell you that it takes practice to do it efficiently. And that’s what I’m here to talk about today. Below, I have listed several guidelines that I always use when going into these situations. It works for me, and I’m sure it will work for you.
Do not wing this conversation. You want to come prepared with solid examples (3 is a good number to show a pattern). You want the background of each case, the “why” each problem, and your desired outcome. Prep will and should take a lot of time but its worth it. Your goal is to help, and you cannot do that without preparation.
In addition to preparing the outline, prepare yourself to handle a “fight or flight” response. This is a natural reaction to critical feedback, but if not checked, often hinders the conversation. Preparation here will allow you to keep the conversation constructive.
While you are preparing for the conversation make sure you are getting plenty of verifiable data. Stay away from phrases like “It feels like you have been doing this a lot” or “You always ….” This will turn your conversation unproductive, real quick. In your problem statement make sure it is crystal clear what problems you are seeing. Use dates in your examples, and make sure they understand the impact of the issue. If their job is on the line in some way, or they are at risk of not achieving their next promotion, say it.
I hope I don’t have to say it, but this conversation should not be used as a weapon, and you don’t want to strike fear in your report, but you’re also not doing them any favors by sugar coating it. You owe it to them to not hide anything. It might limit their chance for success in the future.
After you frame up the problem, take a minute and ask them if they agree that there is a problem. Say this very sentence before you dive into any back and forth, “Before we go forward, I want to know what your thoughts are. First does what I’m saying make sense, and second, is what I am saying a fair statement?” Before you can get into problem-solving mode, they need to agree this is a problem. If they don’t the solution will be “how do I change my boss’s perception?” instead of “How do I improve my skill?” Which is where you need the conversation to be.
Have you seen the movie Inception? Well if you haven’t, there is a premise in the movie that a person is unable to plant an idea in an individuals mind by merely suggesting it to them. For a real impactful idea to stick, a person must guide an individual to believe they came up with it themselves. This is how development plans work. It’s tough to change a behavior when the supervisor suggests how to do it. It’s much more powerful for them to come up with the solution themselves. They will feel more invested in its result and who better to craft a successful plan than the person being improved.
I want to add that you should not just send them off to come up with a plan. As the person doing the Incepting (i don’t know how to make the movie a verb, but I think you get it), your job is to be the guide. Offer different perspectives and things you would like them to think about. Be available for them to bounce ideas off of and make sure they are always pointed in the direction of improvement. Always put them in a position to allow them to help themselves be successful.
If you have not had one of these conversations, you will. Really, if you are not having conversations like this every year, I would challenge you to see if you are properly challenging your team. These conversations are not and should not be last resort conversations. Identifying areas of improvement early is much better than waiting for an opportunity like a promotion is on the line. You should always be looking for ways to help your team get to where they want to be and where you need them to be.
I hope this helps your next crucial conversation. If you have any experiences you would like to share, please leave them in the comments below. Connect with me on social media @ShaunHallTalk if you have any ideas you would like for me to write about in the future. Thanks!
Recommended Book for these type of conversations: Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson. This book is so important for leaders