Beware the story.

As humans we like stories.   Stories help us make sense of the world and share our understanding with others. The problem is sometimes the story we tell ourselves is not true and when we repeat it to others it can cause problems. Here is what happened to a client of mine when she made up a story about the behavior of a co-worker.  The names are fictitious. My client, Sally, was waiting for some information from her colleague, Harry.  She needed the information to create a quote for a customer on Monday morning. Harry had promised to send it to her by 2:00 p.m.  on Friday.  It was 4:00 o’clock on Friday afternoon and no information.  Sally called his office, no response. She called his cell phone and got his voice mail.  She then called his administrative assistance and found out Harry left at 12:00 noon that day, he said he wouldn’t be back in until Monday and offered no other explanation.  Sally made up all kinds of stories in her head about Harry and why he failed to deliver on his promise.  She spent her entire weekend stewing about Harry’s lack of respect for her, the company and customer’s proposal.  She was so upset it ruined her time at a family outing. On Monday morning she discovered Harry had sent the information to her on Friday before he left, however there was a glitch in the email system and the message was still stuck in his inbox.

Sally learned a valuable lesson.  In the future instead of making up stories and spending her weekend all worked up, she would tell herself there was a reason for Harry’s behavior.  When we judge someone else’s behavior, we have two choices: react or respond.  When we react, we blame the other person, when we respond there is a pause between what we see or what we hear and what we say or do next. We become curious and look for reason. It takes practice to shift from automatically reacting to responding. They next time you find yourself in a tailspin reacting to another’s behavior stop and say to yourself, there is an explanation, at this moment in time I don’t know what it is, so I’m going to stop being upset and move on.

Relationships make us or break us

In his book The 100/0 Principle: The Great Secret of Relationships Al Ritter wrote – relationships surround us, confound us and sometimes lead to our defeat.  Interesting, isn’t it.  Unless you are a hermit, you interact with people every day and often those interactions, those relationships can make or break our day.  Think about the last time you received a compliment from someone, it probably made you feel good.  Conversely, the argument you had with another person maybe put you in a bad mood.   If you are anything like me you replay the situation over and over, and let it consume your thoughts. Here is the good news, it doesn’t have to be that way.

When we have an interaction with someone, and it doesn’t go as planned ask yourself three questions.  What went right, what needs improvement and what will I do differently next time? These three questions can shift you from worry to calm confidence because you will have a plan for next time. You may want to write down your answers in a journal.  This gets the conversation out of your head and down on paper.  If you find yourself ruminating again, you can say to yourself, I’ve already dealt with this, time to move on.

 

It is the little things that make a difference.

Little things make a differenceIn working with one of my clients his goal is to be more purposeful in his interactions with his team. He told me he has come to realize that scheduling time to check in with the people he leads has made a difference in how effectively they work together.

He said until recently he didn’t make a point to check in on a regular basis and ask a few key questions. Questions like – what’s working, what do they need help with are fairly standard. He told me when added questions like – what is your biggest accomplishment this week, what is something you do differently than most of your co-workers, and what has been the highlight of your week so far – it furthered the conversation and the workplace relationship. His employees commented how much they’ve appreciated his willingness to spend time and listen to them. He told me in the past he was so focused on getting the work done he was not making time to spend with his team in one-to-one meetings.

This simple change has made a difference for him and his employees. What is your favorite question to ask in a meeting with one of your team members?

What makes the biggest difference in a difficult conversation?

Listening to a podcast this morning the host told a story about a lesson he learned from a pro-golfer. The pro said the one way to improve your game was to practice until you can make a 3-foot putt 50 times from the same spot without missing. Putting is about 41% of the game and most puts are within 3 feet of the hole. If all you do is master this single shot, you will reduce your score by 20 to 25%.

It struck me the same is true for a difficult conversation. The conversation is won or lost in how it begins. Start with a statement that describes why you value the relationship you have with the other person and why the conversation is important, and you are off to a great start. Start with a question or derogatory remark and it is doomed to failure. In his research with couples, John Gottman, found he can predict the outcome of a conversation with 96% accuracy, simply but how it begins.

Want my tip sheet for opening lines for difficult conversations? Just ask and I will send it your way.

Are you comfortable being uncomfortable?

My clients say one of the main reasons they avoid difficult conversations is because they are uncomfortable. As humans we like comfort. When life is good, and you feel comfortable your brain releases a series of chemicals that keep you feeling good. When things get uncomfortable and you experience anxiety, fear, and stress your brain releases chemicals that are designed to help you survive a potentially harmful situation. Your heart pounds and your body sweats. Your brain is helping your body fight the enemy or run away.

When you need to have a conversation, you perceive as challenging your brain can shift into the flight or fight mode – if you let it.

To have success we need to embrace the discomfort and know with practice difficult conversations will get easier. Remember back to the first time you tried anything new. It was hard, yet with practice over time you mastered it.

When we make a habit of trying new things our comfort zone expands and newness become less fear inducing and more pleasurable. This is part of the reason I created my online course – Difficult Conversations 3 P’s to Mastery. So you can prepare, practice and perfect the conversation before it takes place in real life. Click here check it out.

The #1 thing I wish someone had warned me about when I became a manager was how to handle disagreement between employees.

The first time one of my direct reports came to me with a complaint about another person in our department, I ignored the issue because I thought it would just go away. It didn’t and pretty soon it spread like wildfire throughout the company. In retrospect I would have helped the complaining employee create a plan to talk with their fellow coworker and resolve the issue.

Over the years as I’ve worked with new managers, they’ve shared a similar frustration. When someone comes to you with a complaint about another person in your department or organization avoid playing intermediary. Unless you are a trained mediator involving yourself as the go between with only make the situation worse.

Here’s what you can do. Listen with the intent to understand by asking questions that start with what or how. A few examples are: what makes you feel that way? How does this impact your ability to get your job done? What will you do to resolve this issue? Then ask them when they will talk to the person. If they say they aren’t or don’t want to help them recognize the only way the problem will be resolved is if they talk to the person. Walk them through the BECAUSE mnemonic I’ve created.

Behavior – start with a statement that describes the behavior

Effect – describe the effect of the behavior

Change – what needs to be different in the future

Actively listen to the other person

Understand – seek to understand the other person

Solution – agree on next steps

Express confidence in their ability to make the change.

Would you like a detailed worksheet? Respond here and its yours.

Avoid Analysis Paralysis

Last Friday afternoon I presented at a virtual conference. At the end of my presentation one of the participants commented in the chat how important it is to avoid analysis paralysis. That is so true! When planning for a difficult conversation there is a danger in over thinking the situation. Once you have your plan in place take immediate action. Call the person and schedule a time to talk. Better yet get the conversation scheduled and then create your plan. This way you will have a deadline to work toward.

To help you avoid analysis paralysis I’ve created a 12-point tip sheet to master the difficult conversation. Want a copy? Just ask me by posting a comment and I’ll send it your way.

Be Curious Instead of Angry

Anger is our natural response to threat. When we are threatened or attached anger is our automatic response and pushes us to fight back and act quickly and forcefully to protect ourselves. The challenge is anger gets in the way of problem solving. When we are angry and engage in conversation, the other person will pick up on our feelings and likely respond in kind.

Let’s say for example a colleague fails to complete their part of the project on time. You are upset. The delay may put the project in jeopardy. You need to have a conversation to resolve the issue and get the project back on track. Before you start the conversation, get out your journal or a piece of paper and write down what about this situation makes you feel angry?
Possible answers include – I will have to work extra hours to make up for their part of the project and I might miss an important family event. This is par for the course; they rarely hold up their end of the bargain and the entire team gets blamed for it! They just can’t seem to follow through on anything.

Write until you aren’t able to think of any other reasons. Get it all down on paper. Now take a few breaths and shift from anger to curiosity. Ask yourself “I wonder what’s happening that is causing their behavior.” In other words there is a reason for their behavior, and you want to find out what it is. You won’t know the answer to this question until you have the conversation. So, you can start the conversation with curiosity. You can begin with “I noticed that you missed the deadline on XYZ project, help me understand what caused that?” Then be quite and listen.

Next time you need speak to a co-worker because you are frustrated by their behavior come from a place of curiosity and let me know how it goes. Post your response here.

#1 Wrong Way to Have a Conversation

In working with my clients to improve their ability to communicate with their team the most common mistake they make is responding with the written word. Imagine you are in the middle of a project and you get a text from someone you supervise asking for your input or advice. Do you quickly respond back with the answer? Or do you schedule a time for a phone call, Zoom or in person meeting? Responding immediately can lead to misunderstanding and confusion.

Not too long ago I had a conversation with a colleague using the direct message feature of LinkedIn. I misread her inquiry and quickly responded with some information, not at all what she was asking about. We went back a fourth with a few messages before I realized what she had asked for in the first place. In the end we had a good laugh about it. Here is what I will do in the future. First avoid responding immediately, second read the request at least twice before responding and third avoid using text when it is possible instead have a verbal conversation.

Yes, even when we are speaking face to face or over the phone or on camera there is a risk for misunderstanding. However, we are more likely to pick up on body language and tone of voice when speaking then by reading the written word. And, to make it worse we often insert emotion and meaning to the words that aren’t there.


Text and e-mail are great documentation tools and poor communication tools. Stop text or e-mail for conversations. Pick up the phone or walk down the hall and talk with the person.

What’s is your focal point?

From time to time we’ve all had to have a conversation we’d rather not have. Maybe it is talking to a direct report about their lack of performance, or we have a difference of opinion with a colleague, or we have to deliver some bad news. It is inevitable these conversations produce anxiety. You worry that the conversation may not go as smoothly as you’d like. You may not reach agreement. Feelings may get hurt. Yes, those things could happen.

In preparing for the conversation try focusing on what could go right, instead of what could go wrong. Picture in your mind’s eye the conversation going smoothly, the issue is resolved to both party’s satisfaction, each person remains calm, you will remain friends. As author Robin Sharma reminds us – What you focus on grows, what you think about expands, and what you dwell upon determines your destiny.

Next time you have to have one of those conversations, take out a sheet of paper and draw a line down the middle. On one side list all the things that can go wrong on the other list all the things that can go right. Now tear the sheet in half and throw away the list of things that could go wrong. Keep the list of what can go right as your focal point.