I am an older sibling. I have one younger brother, Andy. He and I struggled to get along as kids. When I look back on it I take all of the blame. I was so mean! I thought torturing Andy was my calling in life. As I reflect back on it I realize part of my issue was that I didn't really know how to communicate with him. I would revert to sarcasm or cutting words if I ever felt uncomfortable. I still do this with people! If things get too serious or tense, I say something funny and turn the tide.
Can I be honest about something that I hate about leadership? I do not like having hard conversations with people. That said, if I'm going to lead people well I have to own these awkward talks. One of the worst leadership practices is NOT having difficult talks with people.
In order to lead well I have had to create a system for myself. That may sound odd...but it works for me. If you're the type who can slip into bad conversation practices such as: being too emotional, getting defensive or just not having a tough talk with someone, maybe this will help you.
Here is a 4 step process to have tough talks.
1. Lead a QUESTION.
Start the dialogue like this, "May I give you some feedback?" This allows you to make sure it's a good time for them and that they are open. If they say no, ask when will be a good time. Don't wait too long, tackle it soon. This opens the door for you to speak straight. People know what "feedback" means. It can be both good & bad. Key Words: "May I..."
2. Describe specific BEHAVIOR.
Don't attempt to guess at the “motivation” for behavior. Discuss the actual behavior you saw, heard, or read. You cannot see someone being lazy or having a poor attitude. You can see them being 15 minutes late 3 of the past 5 days. You can see documents with spelling errors. Behaviors are witnessed, attitudes can only be inferred. Tell them what you saw, hear or read, not what you are guessing. Avoid labels. Say, "When you roll your eyes in meetings when others talk; when you say ‘you guys don’t get it’; when you come late to meetings and are texting during it; When you stomp off because you don't get your way..." Key Words: "...When you..."
3. Describe the IMPACT of the behavior.
Adults understand that actions have consequences. Once you have described what you observed, tell them what you felt or what impact it had on the organization, project, or team. A phrase that captures this thought is, "When you do this, here’s what happens" or, "When you do this, I feel...". Key Words: "Here's what happens..."
4. Discuss NEXT STEPS.
When feedback is negative, and the person verifies that they understand what they did and its impact, it is time to work out how to change the behavior in the future. They must really own their efforts. If I simply impose a change, they will be less likely to enact it. Ask open-ended or leading questions to start this process, such as: "What do you think you can do in this area?" "How should we approach this?" "What ideas do you have to improve here?" Key words: "What are you going to do about this?"
My younger brother turned out to be the best guy I know. We are great friends today. Somehow he survived me and grew in his life to become someone really significant. Personally I like to think that I served as a refining fire of sorts to shape him into who he is. Yeah...he probably would not agree with that either! Love you Andy!