So this question has been posed in a few different ways from how to let someone go, to how to tell your boss they’re micromanaging you, to the best way to have an accountability conversation with an employee or contractor. So, I’m bundling these questions into today’s One Burning Question, “how do I initiate difficult conversations?”
Thanks, by the way to Jenny for this question today. Jenny is a Virtual Assistant and is struggling to trigger a conversation with people she is paid to assist vs. manage. Jenny, thank you so much for contacting me about your question. You can submit your own question by visiting my website at vimandvigor.biz
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So before you start in giving feedback to anyone I want you to ask yourself:
,,Do you want to have a conversation or give feedback?
I had an acquaintance once who, if they disagreed with something on social media, they were not shy about telling the world about it. However, contacting the person individually and saying, “hey, can we talk about that?” they would get on their own profile and complain about that person, name withheld, in hopes they would eventually see her comment, understand they were the subject of her rant, and subsequently feel appropriately chastised. I asked her privately one time, “hey can we talk about that?” they only replied with, “well someone has to tell them how wrong they are, it might as well be me!”
That was a long time ago and social media has changed drastically, but that story stands out in my mind because this is how feedback seems to go these days.
Let’s think about what feedback really means.
Feedback is a reaction. It is a response to an event, a task, a behavioral event, conversation or something happened and you think it should have gone differently so you ‘give feedback’ on how you think it should have gone.
Think of audio feedback – you know that piercing screech that happens when you get a microphone too close to a speaker? That happens because that signal is looping through the speaker and microphone. They are both acting as inputs and outputs until the sound catches up and screeches.
That’s what feedback can look like if you’re not the right person to be giving it or you haven’t thought through the delivery, the expected outcomes, the timing, or even the message. You receive an output from someone and feel the need to provide an input to which the person reacts (the output), to which you react – This is the output that becomes their input and congratulations, you’ve just created a feedback loop with incredible screeching noise.
So instead of giving feedback, I want you to think about having conversations. You can initiate difficult conversations with some mindful planning and a little bit of fortitude.
I’m going to discuss three conversation opportunities and my recommendation for how to handle each one.
,When You Know a Colleague is Off Their Game
· The colleague you’ve worked with forever is suddenly behaving like a jerk
· The colleague that usually makes sound, logical decisions is suddenly making rash decisions that are affecting your team’s results.
· A colleague who suddenly turns into a bull in a china shop – bullying their way through meetings insisting on their way when they’re normally collaborative.
Instead of giving them feedback, “Hey, you’ve been a jerk lately,” understand their need to talk and sit them down and ask instead, “What’s going on? What’s on your mind? What’s keeping you up at night?”
Consider their body language.
If they put their head in their hands they could be experiencing shame, overwhelm, or despair. Don’t fill the silence.
If they open their arms, they’re excitable, irritated, or frustrated. Just let them talk. Remember, your end game is get your colleague back to status quo not fix all their problems.
,When Someone Believes the World is Against them
I once had someone in my office who truly believed the entire world was against them. Everyone from the policeman who pulled them over for speeding, to the clerk at the fast food chain who made him late for his shift because they moved too slowly, to the supervisor who spoke to him about his workload. He was tired of life picking on him and wanted answers.
I’m sure you’ve been in that position as well. Their situation is unique and no one has ever felt alone, mistreated, misdirected, shamed or whatever like they have right now. And you know what, maybe we’ve been there too, right?
We all have our down days, but as leaders it is essential that we mix compassion with accountability. We may not truly understand just how deeply this mindset may go and unless you are a counselor trained to handle these situations, I recommend you take a step back from the emotionality of the situation.
Let me share with you what I asked him: I asked, “What do you own?”
And yes, he argued with everything in his book about how he did everything right but the world turned against him. So I followed up with him and said, “okay. Let’s assume all of that happened. Let’s assume the cop was wrong in pulling you over and the clerk singled you out of every customer, and the supervisor targeted you specifically.
Let’s say all that happened. What could you have done differently to make your day go better? How could you have reacted to each scenario to prevent anger from boiling up? What could you have said to your supervisor, even if he was wrong, instead of cursing back at him?
Tell me what you own.
This is a tough one to nail. We don’t want to come across self-righteous, but we need to make our position on future behavior clear. Asking what parts they own is key to offering a compassionate, yet accountable expectation.
,When Someone Believes it’s Hopeless
Hopelessness comes in all shapes and forms. Strong people experience it, people who are struggling experience it. Men, women, and all age, race, and classes experience hopelessness. Different from those who feel the world is against them, people who feel hopeless are often not arguing with you. They feel like they’ve tried everything, done everything and can’t see the pot of gold at the end of their rainbow because of the cloud that’s always in the way. You have a fantastic opportunity to lift up someone’s spirits.
Next time your friend or colleague is feeling hopeless, consider asking them what their happy look like? Or your content, or peace or success.
What’s the biggest thing that is keeping you from it?
Then remind them of a strength of theirs that will help them through this, then ask, “How can I help?”
Good for you! By asking these questions, you were able to influence them in a way that affirms their strengths and teaches them to stand with confidence again.
And finally, I want to leave you with sometimes the best conversation is no conversation at all. It’s a simple, “I’m here for you.” And then you sit back and listen. No advice. No sales pitch. No fumbling over the buzz words. Just genuine, old fashioned listening.
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