Most challenging conversations are more effective when we take the time to prepare for them. I’d like to suggest five things you can do to be better prepared to guide your next challenging conversation to a successful outcome.
Gather the relevant information.
First of all, collect the relevant information pertaining to the topic of the conversation—the who, what, and why. Ask yourself:
- Who do I need to talk to?
- What is the problem?
- Why might this problem be occurring?
Envision the desired outcome.
Imagine the best possible outcome. If the conversation goes well, what will be the result? Be specific as you visualize this. Being keenly aware of your intentions will make preparation easier—and keeping those intentions in mind will guide the conversation in the direction you want it to go.
Anticipate the other person’s reactions and your response.
Think about ways the other person might react to the conversation to guard against the possibility of being blindsided by their words or actions. If you have considered their probable reactions and determined how you will best respond , you will be ahead of the game. Remember, though, that you can’t predict every reaction—even from someone you know well.
Pay attention to logistical issues.
The environment surrounding a difficult conversation can affect its outcome. A bit of forethought and preparation can have a significant positive impact. Here are some best practices for handling the logistics of the conversation.
- Schedule more than enough time – 30 minutes more than you expect.
- Hold the conversation in a private, safe, neutral location if possible.
- Make sure you will not be interrupted.
- Turn all phones and devices off.
- Have tissue available if tears are a possibility.
- Have a glass or bottle of water handy.
- If the conversation is with a direct report, be prepared to give the person the rest of the day off if needed—and do not have the conversation at the end of the day on Friday.
Decide if the conversation is worth having.
Note that I put the decision about actually having the conversation last. Sometimes you find that the conversation itself is not as important as the deliberations you went through to prepare for it. What you really needed was to sort out your own thoughts and feelings. After all of your preparation, if you determine that you don’t need to have the conversation, you will lose nothing by changing your mind.
What other ideas do you have for preparing for challenging conversations?
About the author:
John Hester is a senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies who specializes in performance and self-leadership. You can read John’s posts on the second Thursday of each month.
In a new article for Fast Company, columnists Scott Blanchard and Ken Blanchard take a look at why some companies are successful in implementing change while others struggle.
They also look at why some leaders inspire people to work together effectively, while others cannot.
The pivotal ingredient in both cases? Trust
Drawing from Ken Blanchard’s latest and brand new book, Trust Works! Four Keys to Building Lasting Relationships (co-authored with Cynthia Olmstead and Martha Lawrence) Blanchard identifies four components that either build—or bust—trust with people.
The four attributes are:
- Able—does the leader Demonstrate Competence
- Believable—does the leader Act with Integrity
- Connected—does the leader Care about Others
- Dependable—does the leader Maintain Reliability
Blanchard identifies that, “The ability to build trust is a defining competency,” and he recommends that leaders take a two-step approach to evaluating their trustworthiness—beginning with a self assessment. To make this easier, Blanchard provides a link to a free online tool www.trustworksbook.com
The self-assessment gives leaders a chance to see if their actions might be contributing to low-trust relationships through behaviors that are seen as less than Able, Believable, Connected, and Dependable.”
Second, Blanchard recommends that leaders ask colleagues and direct reports to evaluate their behavior as well.
“What you learn about yourself can be eye-opening,” says Blanchard. “Many of us are unaware when our behavior is eroding the trust of others around us. What seems like acceptable behavior to us may be causing a friend, spouse, boss, employee, or significant other to feel downright wary.”
As a case in point, Blanchard shares a story about his own experience using the assessment and how he discovered that his staff scored him low on being Dependable.
While Blanchard knew he had trouble saying “no” to requests and liked to say yes to others as much as possible, he didn’t realize it was a problem until he learned that, because he said “yes” to so many things and overcommitted himself, he was sometimes regarded as undependable.
Using the assessment and the Able, Believable, Connected, and Dependable framework, Blanchard and his team were able to discuss Ken’s “trust buster” trait. Together the team was able to develop solutions. As a result, today—in addition to being careful about not over-committing himself—when Ken goes on trips he doesn’t take his own business cards. Instead, he gives out the cards of his executive assistant, who can make sure Ken has the time and resources to follow through before he makes commitments.
How are you doing on trust? Are your behaviors consistent with your intentions? To read more about Ken and Scott Blanchard’s thinking on this topic, be sure to check out, Do Your Employees Trust You?
Most virtual leaders struggle with managing the performance of those they can’t see. Would they be more effective managers if they had “super-vision”? Some organizations install software so leaders can randomly check the screens of their employees. Some leaders even whisper that they want remote video cameras at employee’s desks.
Here’s the reality. If you need super-vision, you are not leading, you are babysitting.
How to really lead remote employees? Start by shifting your mindset.
- Know your role. You are not an Olympic judge holding up signs to rate a performance. Your job is to help employees contribute to your organization’s success today and develop them to contribute more tomorrow.
- Recognize that over monitoring leads to malicious compliance, not enthusiasm and extra effort.
Second, look for ways to improve the measurement and tracking of contributions.
- Make sure you are monitoring outcomes and results instead of activities.
- Consider setting targeted, shorter goals. Explore work planning concepts like Agile Strategy. Use two to four week goal sprints to provide prompt recognition and spur innovation to increase productivity and results.
- Seek out data sources where employees can monitor their own results. Try to model the automated school zone boards that report your speed as 34 in a 25 mph zone. Build in systems so both you and your employees receive automatic feedback for recognition and improvement. Don’t make them wait for their quarterly review to get feedback.
- Develop your measures collaboratively. Even if you previously performed an employee’s job, some aspects of the role have probably changed. Work together to identify what real success looks like. It builds commitment and increases the accuracy of performance measures.
Work—particularly virtual work—requires us to re-think our notion of leadership and re-imagine our performance management systems. None of the recommendations provided here are easy to implement. The alternative, though, is for our leaders to struggle and our employees to be hampered by that struggling. In the long run, relying on super-vision gets us nowhere.
About the author
Carmela Sperlazza Southers is a senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies. Her posts on increasing organizational, team, and leader effectiveness in the virtual work world appear on the fourth Monday of every month.
Two years ago I was in Kenya doing some volunteer work when our van got stuck in the mud on the way to visit one of the local schools. We tried everything to get unstuck but nothing worked. We needed help.
In the workplace as well as other areas of our lives, we sometimes encounter people who apparently are stuck in the mode of complaining and unwilling to move toward resolution. I have discovered a simple process to help complainers move from whining to action.
1. Hear them out. First, hear them out one more time. When they complain again—and you know they will—take the time to listen to them, giving them your full attention and energy. It is best to do this in a private setting where neither of you will be distracted.
2. Summarize their issue. Next, when you are sure that you understand the problem at hand and the other person feels heard, interrupt them if necessary and gently say, “Let me make sure I fully understand.” Restate the situation and their frustration as you see it. For example, if they have been complaining about being micromanaged, you might say, “What I’m hearing is that you are frustrated because your boss is micromanaging you.” Get their agreement to your summary—but do not let them continue with their rant.
3. Help them consider their options. Now ask this magic question: “Understanding that this is the situation, what are your options?” In a best-case scenario, they will have some ideas and you can help them come up with an action plan. Chances are, however, that they are too stuck to think of any options. If so, lead with some ideas of your own and solicit their feedback. Either way, help them consider their options and decide on their next steps.
4. Make them accountable for next steps. To add an element of accountability, at the end of the conversation summarize the agreed-upon action plan. Ask the person when they plan to take the first step and set up a date and time to check in with them
What do you do if, despite all your efforts, the other person refuses to move on and seems as if they want to stay stuck?
At this point, I suggest a few options:
- Try to help them understand the effect being stuck is having on them and on those around them. Hopefully, you can stir them to action.
- Refer them to someone else for counseling. Perhaps the HR department has some options for them.
- Remember to take care of yourself. It may be time to ask yourself: Is this relationship worth the emotional drain I experience each time we are together?
I hope these thoughts help you to move others to action. Let me know any other ideas you have to help others get unstuck.
About the author:
John Hester is a senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies who specializes in performance and self-leadership. You can read John’s posts on the second Thursday of each month.
On his first day back after his training, the plant manager noticed a Technical Service Executive in the lab having a discussion with an external contractor. While she was wearing safety glasses, the contractor was not. The manager has a no tolerance policy as far as safety is concerned and his normal response would be to call the technician to his office and in his words, “read her the riot act.”
According to the manager’s self-assessment: “I am known to blow a fuse (or two) when safety rules are flouted, however, I managed to keep my cool and decided to test my training.”
He asked the technician to his office and could see that she was worried about his reaction. But instead of leading with his dismay and disappointment, he started by explaining that he had just received some training on motivation. He shared key concepts with her. He then asked her if she thought that the rule to wear safety glasses, even when there was no experiment on, was “stupid” as there is no danger to the eyes. Did she feel imposed upon to wear safety glasses as she had no choice?
Since the technician was invited to have a discussion rather than “dressing down,” she was open and candid. She explained that she had a two-year old child and she was extremely concerned about lab safety as she wanted to reach home safe every evening. To the manager’s great surprise, she also shared that in certain areas, she would prefer even more, not less, stringent safety measures. For example, she suggested that safety shoes should be required for lab experiments that are conducted at elevated temperatures.
But when it came to wearing safety glasses when no experiments were being conducted, she just could not understand the rationale and did, indeed, resent the imposed rule. As a result, she didn’t feel compelled to enforce it, especially with an external contractor. The manager said he understood her feelings and went on to provide the rationale that the intention was that wearing glasses would become a force of habit, just like wearing a safety belt in the car.
The manager said he saw the light dawn in her eyes.
When it comes to your leadership and the motivation of those you lead, consider:
1. Self-regulation is a requirement if you want to lead differently—and better. Challenging your natural tendencies and patterns of behavior provides you with more options on how to lead. The new choices you make can be rewarding and productive for you, but especially for those you lead. As the plant manager reported: “I am sure if I had just followed my normal instincts and given her a piece of my mind, I would have been met with a hangdog look, profuse apologies, and a promise not to ever do this again. And it probably would have happened again. She would have gone away from my office with feelings of resentment and being imposed upon and I would also have had a disturbed day due to all the negative energy.”
2. Admit when you are trying something new. Be honest about expanding your leadership skills. People will appreciate your sincere and authentic efforts. Says the plant manager: “Suffice it to say that in my view, my little experiment was a success. I have since shared what I learned with many of my team members and plan to have more Motivational Outlook Conversations with them in the coming weeks.”
3. Remember that as a manager you cannot motivate anyone. What you can do is create an environment where an individual is more likely to be optimally motivated. Ask (and genuinely care about) how a person is feeling, help them recognize their own sense of well-being regarding a particular issue, and provide them with rationale without trying to “sell” it.
Other take-aways? Please share!
About the author:
Susan Fowler is one of the principal authors—together with David Facer and Drea Zigarmi—of The Ken Blanchard Companies’ new Optimal Motivation process and workshop. Their posts appear on the first and third Monday of each month.
A client asked me yesterday, “Why are you so interested in writing about optimal and suboptimal motivation? All managers care about is productivity, accountability, and results—isn’t it like pushing water uphill with a toothpick,” he asked.
Beyond absolutely loving that visual, the question really caught me. How often to do you hear someone ask you why you do what you do?
My “whys” are straightforward.
First, I think all employees, from today’s new hires to the most seasoned top execs, long for a more fulfilling work experience than they have. Most can’t, or won’t, say it like that—not in such blatant terms. But their words, body language, mental and physical exhaustion, dry business approach, and chronic complaints about other people (seldom about themselves, of course) offer some evidence of this assertion.
Second, the need is widespread. I have never had less than one individual from a consulting, coaching, or training program in any organization come up and tell me during or afterwards, “You need to get my boss to learn this stuff.” They explain that the motivational culture they currently work in consists mostly of pressure and demands for ever greater accountability.
My third reason is the most potent of them all. It helps make the entire world a better place. In essence, this is optimal motivation as moral agent. Huh? Moral agent? Well, I believe people long to do good work. They long to be part of organizational cultures that are psychologically healthy, intellectually vibrant, and purposefully productive. Motivation research shows we thrive with such vitality and well-being. And don’t you think employees also have a right to it, too?
In the end, my biggest why is that enriching the work environment by teaching others how to leverage the most up-to-date science of motivation in practical ways is the morally right thing to do. It’s one small action that offers the fresh possibility of making life more fulfilling for everyone.
When asked how well the traditional mantras of, “Results, results, results!” and, “People need to be held accountable,” helps them thrive at work, most employees report, “They don’t—not really.” We have enough old approaches like that. Instead, what we need now is actionable individual, interpersonal, and systems-focused tools that help all employees—individual contributors and management alike—to rejuvenate their stale and pressure-filled work environments. We need psychologically healthy ways to bring employees alive, and to make work—and our entire lives—better.
About the author:
The Motivation Guy (also known as Dr. David Facer) is one of the principal authors—together with Susan Fowler and Drea Zigarmi—of The Ken Blanchard Companies’ new Optimal Motivation process and workshop. Their posts appear on the first and third Monday of each month.
In a special presentation on Performance Planning: 5 ways to set your people up for success, Hester will be exploring how leaders can improve performance by identifying potential gaps that trip up even the best of leaders.
Participants will learn:
- How to set clear goals
- The lazy leadership habits to avoid
- The 3 keys to “connecting the dots” and diagnosing development level
The webinar is free and seats are still available if you would like to join over 500 people expected to participate.
Immediately after the webinar, John will be answering follow-up questions here at LeaderChat for about 30 minutes. To participate in the follow-up discussion, use these simple instructions.
Instructions for Participating in the Online Chat
- Click on the LEAVE A COMMENT link above
- Type in your question
- Push SUBMIT COMMENT
It’s as easy as that! John will answer as many questions as possible in the order they are received. Be sure to press F5 to refresh your screen occasionally to see the latest responses.
We hope you can join us later today for this special complimentary event courtesy of Cisco WebEx and The Ken Blanchard Companies. Click here for more information on participating.
I started experiencing back pain around the time I turned 50. When I went to the doctor she told me, “John, you are at that age where every morning you will wake up with pain somewhere.” Wow! Talk about a wake-up call. Luckily, she didn’t leave it at that. She also gave me some specific stretching and strengthening exercises to help with the pain—and when I take the time to do them, they do help.
The reality is that without care and attention, things break down – our bodies, our minds, and our relationships. As we start this new year, I suggest that we each increase our capacity by taking time to regularly renew ourselves in each of the four dimensions of life – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.
- Increasing or maintaining your physical capacity includes getting regular physical activity, taking time for rest and relaxation, eating a balanced diet, and doing other activities that revitalize the body and give you energy. For many, getting too little sleep is a culprit. Remember what Andy Rooney said: “Go to bed. Whatever you’re staying up late for isn’t worth it.”
- To increase your mental capacity, consider activities such as keeping a journal, reading, taking up a hobby, or continuing your education—anything that broadens and strengthens the mind. Be a student of whatever field you choose. Read voraciously. Mark Twain stated: “The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.”
- Activities that increase your emotional capacity can include regular social activity with friends and family, learning to listen with empathy, valuing the differences in others, increasing your circle of friends, and forgiving yourself and others. Forgiveness can be a power tool for increasing emotional capacity. As Lewis Smedes said: “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”
- Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, authors of The Power of Full Engagement, define spiritual capacity as “the energy that is unleashed by tapping into one’s deepest values and defining a strong sense of purpose.” Your spiritual capacity is a powerful source of motivation, focus, and resilience. You may build your spiritual capacity by connecting with nature, reading inspirational literature, living in integrity, listening to uplifting music, engaging in meditation and/or prayer, or other activities that nourish the soul.
Author Rumer Godden may have said it best: “Everyone is a house with four rooms: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Unless we go into every room every day, even if only to keep it aired, we are not a complete person.”
What are some things you plan to do in the new year to renew yourself?
About the author:
John Hester is a senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies who specializes in performance and self-leadership.
Performance expert John Hester identifies four common mistakes that managers make when they set goals for employees in the latest issue of Ignite! The negative result is poor or misaligned performance, accountability issues, blame and resentment—not to mention countless hours spent reviewing tasks and redoing work.
Wondering if you might be making some of these common mistakes in your own goal setting with employees? Here’s what Hester warns against.
- Goals are not realistic. Stretch goals are great, but if they are out of reach they become demotivating and can even cause some employees to engage in unethical behavior to achieve them. In addition to making sure a goal is attainable, goals should be monitored and adjusted as needed during the year.
- Setting too many goals. When employees have too many goals they can easily lose track of what is important and spend time on the ones they “want” to do or that are easier to accomplish whether or not they are the highest priority.
- Setting goals and then walking away. Goal setting is the beginning of the process, not an end in itself. Once goals are set, managers need to meet regularly to provide support and direction to help employees achieve their goals.
- Setting a “how” goal instead of a “what” goal. Goals should indicate “what” is to be accomplished—the end in mind—not “how” it should be accomplished.
3 Ways to Improve Goal Setting
For managers looking to make their goal setting and performance planning more effective, Hester recommends focusing on three key areas.
Approach goal-setting as a partnership. Recognize that performance planning is not something that you should do alone. This is something to be done in partnership with your team member. It’s a collaborative process. So the manager needs to know what the employee’s key areas of responsibility are, what is expected in the role, and what they want to see in terms of performance. The key is to have that discussion with the employee.
Make sure the goal is SMART (or SMMART). Anytime you set a goal, objective, or an assignment, you need to make sure that it meets the simple SMART criteria (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound). Hester also believes that there should be a second “M” in the SMART acronym to account for employee Motivation. This means the manager needs to additionally ask, “What is it about this goal that is motivating? What difference does it make in the organization, or to the team, or to the individual employee?”
Diagnose competence and commitment levels. Finally, managers need to consider an employee’s individual competence and commitment level for a task. It’s a common mistake to assume that because a person is a veteran employee, they will be experienced at any new task that might be set before them. This is often incorrect. It’s important that a manager find out about experience with a specific task and then partner with the employee to determine what they need in terms of direction and support to be successful with this particular assignment.
To learn more about Hester’s advice for improved goal setting and performance with your people, be sure to check out the article Goal Setting Needs to Be a Partnership. Also be sure to check out Hester’s January 23 webinar on Performance Planning: 5 ways to set your people up for success—it’s free courtesy of Cisco WebEx and The Ken Blanchard Companies.
Accountability, accountability, accountability. It’s an issue that comes up time and again as leaders and HR professionals think about the one underlying challenge in their organizations that holds performance back. It’s a silent killer that operates below the surface in organizations and it’s tough to address.
A best-selling business book (and one that I had never heard of until earlier this month) addresses a key piece of the accountability issue. Leadership and Self-Deception was first published in 2000 and then re-issued as a second edition in 2010. The book has sold over 1,000,000 copies since it was published and sales have grown every year since it was first “discovered” by HR, OD, and change practitioners.
What makes the book so different (and hard to describe) is that it looks at work behavior as fundamentally an inside-out proposition. We basically act out externally what we are feeling inside. Bad behavior externally—doing just enough to get by, compliance instead of commitment, and putting self-interest ahead of team or department goals—are justified because of the way that that colleagues, managers, and senior leaders are acting in return.
The folks at The Arbinger Institute, the corporate authors of the book, call this “in the box thinking” and they believe it is the root cause of many of the problems being experienced at work today.
Is your organization stuck “in the box?”
Wondering if negative attitudes inside might be causing poor accountability on the outside in your organization? Here are a couple of questions to ask yourself.
- Where are the trouble spots in your organization? Where are people getting the job done but it seems to always be at minimum level of performance—and with a low sense of enthusiasm and morale?
- What are the possible attitudes and beliefs among members of that team or department that make them feel justified in their behaviors? Why do they feel it is okay to narrow the scope of their job, focus on their own agenda, and do only what’s required to stay out of trouble—but not much more?
- What can you do to break the cycle of negative thinking that keeps people “in the box?”
Climbing out of the box
Surprisingly, the answer to breaking out of the box starts with expecting more of yourself and others. People climb into the box when they decide to do less than their best. The folks at Arbinger describe this as “self-betrayal” and it sets in motion all sorts of coping strategies that end up with self-focused behaviors. Don’t let that happen in your organization. Here are two ways that you can help people see beyond their self interests.
- Constantly remind people of the bigger picture and their role in it. Set high standards and hold people accountable to them.
- Second, and just as important, provide high levels of support and encouragement for people to do the right thing. Make it easy for people to put the needs of the team, department, and organization ahead of their own. Look at reward, recognition, and compensation strategies. Look at growth and career planning. What can you do to free people up to focus on the needs of others instead of themselves?
Change behavior by changing beliefs
Accountability is a tough issue to address because most people feel justified in their actions and opinions. Don’t let your people self-justify their way into lower performance. It’s not good for them and it’s not good for your organization. Lead people to higher levels of performance. Help people find the best in themselves.