Helpful Straight Talking – Raise an issue in 4 steps
“Come on in Holly, take a seat.” Andrew could feel his heart rate rising and a flushing of his neck as he ushered in his colleague. He really liked Holly, she was a super colleague, but this meant that chatting to her about some recent performance issues was causing him some conflict. How would she take it? He really didn’t want to upset her.
“Come on in Holly, take a seat.” Holly heard the words. They seemed friendly enough, but underneath she sensed this was more than a cuppa and a chat. Andrew had his suit jacket on and she had been asked to his office, which is not normally where they chatted. She knew he liked her, but what was he going to talk to her about? Should she be worried? She could feel her neck and face flushing already. She just hoped she wouldn’t cry in front of him.
Does this sound familiar? Holding that difficult conversation can induce worry from both sides.
In all of our training and coaching, the two issues that leaders want help with most commonly are a) dealing with people when they complain and b) how to effectively raise an issue with someone. As we mentioned last week, we generally don’t like to offend people, and so some leaders find it hard to raise performance issues with others.
One reason this presents such a challenge for people is that it has sometimes gone wrong in the past. There has maybe been an emotional reaction from the receiver of the message and, as a result, we don’t want to go there again. Generally, this negative reaction has resulted from one of three things:
1. The receiver doesn’t understand the motive or trust the person delivering it. They don’t understand that the person supports them and just wants to help them get better.
2. The message has been delivered in a way that takes away control and ownership of the situation. Our brain is hard wired for detecting threat and so, if we perceive that someone is taking away our control or it seems like we are being made smaller and our ego is under threat, then we will react with a fight, flight, or freeze reaction.
3. Our emotions as a receiver have not been recognised or accommodated. This only agitates the person further.
So, when delivering a message to someone, we need to recognise these issues and help the receiver know we are not a threat. Building relationship and trust with the person before these tough conversations is the ideal situation, as it allows them to know your intentions and integrity. When you are ready for that conversation, it can come in 4 easy steps:
Prepare them for hearing the conversation. This means that they need to know that you are not a threat and that you are here to help them. It helps to reduce their emotional reaction and for them to receive the development. An example of this might be “I would like to help you develop your working relationships.” They hear that you are there to help. It prepares them to hear the rest of the message. They understand the intention.
Before we start the conversation, we need to be clear on the root purpose for the conversation. Why am I having this conversation? We need to be clear about the root reason that sits underneath a conversation. For example, if you are having a conversation about the way they are interacting with others, it is about asking, ‘what about this is important?’ As you dig deeper, it might be about helping them have better working relationships.
The next stage is to get to the point. Explain when there has been an issue. Be specific, give facts and be unemotional. You don’t want to make it like a policeman’s notebook with a whole raft of misdemeanours, but it needs to be factually accurate rather than general. For example, “I noticed yesterday when you interacted with Jean about the new initiative that you were a little abrupt when she suggested an idea. I also noticed last Tuesday, in the team meeting, that you told Bernard that his idea was stupid.” It is also important to give the reason why at this point. Explain what it is having an impact on. For example, “I’m noticing that it is impacting on people wanting to speak to you or make comments at meetings with you, and I want you to have a good working relationship with your colleagues.”
Now you have explained the issue and purpose of the conversation, it is now time to partner with them to find a solution. Often people react to an issue being raised because they feel their power and control is being taken away. Lack of control leads to a fight, flight, freeze response. So, if we can ask them what they can do to rectify things, they remain in control. There is also an expectation from you that it needs to be addressed. So, try a simple phrase like, “I’d like to explore what you can do to improve the situation moving forward.” You then need to give them time to come up with ideas. If they come up with some great ideas then celebrate them, but if you think the person is not engaging fully, then try a phrase like, “what else do you think would help you to improve things?”
The last part is to work together on a solution. Discuss what other help might be needed and then agree who is doing what by when. Agree a time together to review it.
A simple process
When you pull this example all together you have:
“I would like to help you develop your working relationships.”
I noticed yesterday when you interacted with Jean about the new initiative that you were a little abrupt when she suggested an idea. I also noticed last Tuesday, in the team meeting, that you told Bernard that his idea was stupid.”
“I’m noticing that it is impacting on people wanting to speak to you or make comments at meetings with you and I want you to have a good working relationship with your colleagues.”
"I’d like to explore what you can do to improve the situation, going ahead.”
So, to confirm, you will do XX by YY. I will do ZZ for you. We will meet again on Thursday week at 4pm to review how it is going for you and the team.
The beauty of this 4-part approach is that you a) lower the perceived threat at the start, b) bring clarity of the issues, c) help the person understand the impact it is having and d) engage them in the process. The whole process feels less threatening as it is approaching the issue with them rather than to them. As the leader, it feels more comfortable as you are partnering with them. As the receiver, you have more control.
Maybe give these 4 steps a try?
Can we help you?
How do you find confronting issues? We hope this blog has been helpful and if you would like some more targeted support to your leadership and raising issues, then do get in contact with us. We can run group training on this for your leaders or organise one-to-one coaching to help with techniques. Give us a call on 01449 710438 if you would like us to help you explore this and empower you.
Everyday Leader is here to empower, inspire and equip you. If we can help you find a way forward, through coaching, training or consultancy, do let us know. Contact us now: email@example.com