We need to talk, now!

Less than four minutes to successfully make the impossible conversation possible

There are key books that I use in my training courses and which I recommend to clients I coach.

In this blog I concentrate on the points I have put into action in my work so that you can read (in less than 4 minutes) and decide for yourself if it could help you be a better manager.  You never know you might even pick up the book and read it in full.

Tools for talking when the stakes are high

Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes are High by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler. 

This is a well written book with plenty of anecdotes as well as some simple but powerful tools to use at work or at home. Whether it’s a manager who keeps moving the goal posts, an uncooperative colleague, a negative friend, or talking to a team member who is not pulling their weight, the authors have given us simple but effective tools to address these problem conversations.

As a CEO for ten years and a senior manager for even longer I came across all these issues. I found the simple rule of being honest and kind coupled with a few ideas adapted from Crucial conversations helped address positively some of the most difficult problems.  Last week I shared this advice with a senior manager in a charity who needed to tackle a difficult issue with a long-standing member of her team whose style was pushing colleagues to the edge of resignation.

When faced with a difficult situation that needs to be addressed it can feel like walking up to an unexploded bomb and you know one wrong snip of the wire (or in our case one wrong word) can result in an emotional explosion.

Following the advice given in Crucial Conversations I suggest the following:

  1. Create and encourage dialogue

Acknowledge that you have a view on the situation e.g. the colleague has let you down again but if you have made up your mind before entering the conversation you will not allow open dialogue.  The best way to avoid an emotional explosion and prevent a conversation going silent or verbally violent is to keep the conversation going.  If there is dialogue, there is hope that you can work through the issue. To keep dialogue open you both need to address the situation from your perspective, but also allow the other person to share their view.

  1. … I…. opening

To do this the authors recommend you start with your observations and open a conversation with for example

“When… (this happened and that happened) I… (experienced this thought or emotion)”

After sharing your observations as objectively as possible invite them to share their story.

In the book there’s an example of a team member who is not doing his share of the work on a team project.

When you don’t show up to team meetings and don’t deliver work to your team colleagues on time, I worry that you don’t care about this project and aren’t putting in the same effort as your colleagues.

I’m probably not seeing the whole picture.  Can you help me see what is going on?”

  1. Find a common goal

To ensure that the person you are talking to doesn’t see you as an opponent – or worse an enemy – and therefore resist or attack everything you say,  find a way to communicate a common goal, value or purpose.

For example, if a conversation with your colleague isn’t going well, remind them, “We both want to enjoy working together, and this argument isn’t helping.  Let’s see if we can come up with a creative solution together.”

  1. Prime the pump

Sometimes the colleague will go silent on you.  The authors recommend what they call “priming the pump”.  In other words, offer in good faith an idea of what you think the other person is thinking.  This will usually help the person to start talking and engage in the dialogue.

The more you engage in productive dialogue, the greater chance you find agreements, and the more likely you’ll work together to resolve the problem at the heart of any crucial conversation.

Local training support at BVSC

If having a difficult conversation is a challenge for you or a member of your team I recommend the new BVSC training course called Difficult conversations: Making the impossible conversation possible. Here you will learn how to identify and prepare for difficult conversations, manage your emotions and confidence throughout the conversation, work with other person’s strong emotions as well as a wealth of tips to professionally give bad news, discuss tough topics and maintain team cohesion.

See the link below for further details: