Does Starting a Tough Conversation Give You Hives?


The topic I get asked about most is Tough Conversations: Ways to start them, how to not screw them up, and certainly, how to have less of them.
Tough conversations are tough for one simple reason: we're human! 

We have feelings and emotions and perspectives and beliefs that get all jumbled up when our defenses rise and our mouths open. And, exactly what ignites a regular conversation into a tough one is the escalation of emotions when something's said that triggers our defense mode. 


Listen, as a manager (or parent or spouse or friend), it's imperative that you get better at communicating. And that doesn't just mean the sweet, easy conversations - it's all the tough, tangled ones too. So to be a master communicator, someone really skilled in delivering both positive and potentially negative feedback, you've got to hone your skills when things get tricky. 


Trust me, I have about 1,000+ tips I can share about mastering the art of tough conversations, but this single one will be most helpful no matter if you are avoiding a talk with your husband, your boss, your sister, your best friend, whomever. 

Ready? Here it is. One simple, impactful tip for mastering a tough conversation...


Yes, prepare. I told you - simple. My guess is that, currently, when you need to have a tough conversation, you find the person, fire up your story, and dive right in. Am I right?

Preparing is the secret sauce that can help put your mind at great ease when you've got a conversation you are dreading to have. 

I won't get into all the science of your brain's fight or flight mechanics, suffice to say when you prepare your rational brain ahead of time, it arms you with clearer thoughts and words when the conversation starts to get stressful (and it will!).


This part is equally easy. Take 2 minutes to think through the following three questions:
1. What exactly is the problem at hand?
2. What is the impact this problem is having?
3. What is the best possible outcome you'd like to see?

That's it. Think these through and get your thoughts in order. You may find out that you don't fully know what the problem is; or that you aren't clear on exactly what kind of impact it's having; or even, that you haven't really come up with what you'd like to see as the solution. 

By preparing, you've done due diligence to outline what it is you want to say. Oftentimes, we start a conversation on an uncomfortable topic and get half-way through and realize the talk is winding all over the place, getting confusing and potentially heated, and is not solving what it was intended to solve!

Now, you may always dread the tough conversations that come up in your life, both personally and professionally. But by taking a minute or two ahead of time to prepare, you'll find that tough becomes a tiny less tough. 

Does My Struggling Manager Need A Coach?

Perhaps you’ve seen Gallup's stats on how managers drastically affect employee engagement and productivity. Without the right help, a struggling manger could be a damaging liability.

Maybe you have a manager that's a poor communicator that neglects or avoids tough conversations. Perhaps they're rude, demeaning or verbally abusive - cue the formal complaints to HR.

Often they’re poor listeners or lack empathy and have a hard time connecting with and influencing their team. They're often low in self-awareness about their behaviors and the negative influence they are having on those around them - everyone else knows, but they don't!

Obviously, a manager who exhibits any of these behaviors impacts their team and others around them on a daily basis. Like the ripples of a stone thrown into water, the effects of a struggling manager can grow far beyond the immediate situation at hand.

Depending on what efforts you've made to remedy the situation, one-on-one coaching might be a good next step. If you feel like your manager is struggling and may benefit from objective outside counsel and are unsure if that's the right decision, here are a few questions you can ask:


1.    How long has their behavior been going on?

2. How damaging has their behavior been (to productivity, morale, etc)?

3.    How much time has been wasted trying to resolve the issue?

4.    Have others complained or quit as a result?

5.    Is the employee valuable and worth the investment to remedy?

How long has their behavior been going on? Sometimes bad manager behavior rears its head once, is addressed and never seen again. Other times, it becomes a recurring situation with on-going and deepening implications. Coaching can help address long-term struggles and/or egregious behavior challenges.

How damaging has their behavior been (to productivity, morale, etc)? Bad management behavior spews shrapnel deeper into the company and potentially can do a lot of damage. Consider the effects on the team's enthusiasm, energy and desire to do a job well done.

How much time has been wasted trying to resolve the issue? Every minute spent trying to solve employee issues is a minute not spent on delivering business results. Drama and complaints divert everyone's focus. Weak managers are a costly liability and the sooner problems are addressed, the faster you get a return on productivity and profits.

Have others complained or quit as a result? Poor managers affect everyone around them. If you hear grumbling and complaints and folks come to HR for help, the problem may have deep roots. You’ll know it’s an even bigger challenge if people quit and claim their manager was the reason.

Is the employee valuable and worth the investment? It’s tough to lose leaders who are critical to the business, especially if they have a hard-to-replace position, have specialized skills sets, or are high up in the ranks. Providing coaching to your most valuable leaders is an investment strategy that saves time and energy over recruiting someone new. 

Keep in mind, coaching may not be the solution to every situation. There are times a manager has been miscast in a role or is unable to deliver the skills and effectiveness required in a leadership position. Exiting them could end up being the logical solution.

Use the above questions as a starting point to help guide the decision on whether to hire a coach for your struggling manager.

3 Shifts New Managers Need to Make

Becoming a new manager was one of the most challenging times in my career. Suddenly I went from individual contributor, responsible only for myself and my work, to manager in charge of a team of friends. Awkward (and tough!).

New managers become responsible for the success of others and oftentimes don’t know what to expect. If this is you, do know when you make this transition, things will not stay exactly the same. There will be changes and shifts in how you and the team operate. And often, these changes requires self-awareness, patience and hard work.

Watch this video lesson below or keep reading.

As a new manager, you must change the way you think and interact with others in the workplace. Here are three shifts that new managers need to make to help become more successful in their role:

1:  Responsibility Shift:  You’ve done it! Your hard work paid off and you have been rewarded with the opportunity to move up in the company. The work you did so well before your promotion was most likely individual, meaning that you got promoted or hired because you were strong in your day-to-day work and were stellar as a party of one.  

But now things are changing and you’ve got other people’s lives and livelihoods in your hands. There is weight to that. As an official representative of the company there is a certain level of responsibility that comes with the job. You are no longer acting in your own best interest, but in the interest of your team. This requires you to shift your mindset from “Me” to “We”.

2:  Liability shift: When you’re the new manager things get trickier. The L word gets introduced to your vocabulary... Liable. That means that your behavior implicates you as well as the company when it comes to claims and lawsuits. As a new manager you have to recognize this shift because it may change the way that you interact with your team.

You are now a leader in the company which means that you have to act like one. The things you say or do may be scrutinized or held under a microscope. While it is an added responsibility, take it in stride with a level of professionalism and behave in a way that you will always be proud of.

3: Mental shift: Not only will you have to change the way you act, but also you will have to change the way you think. Management requires maturity. You have to be mentally prepared for all that’s to come. Leading other people takes courage, commitment and probably a lot more time that you had planned!

Your brain will have to stretch new muscles and think in different ways than before. It will take time and discipline to make this kind of shift, but it is important that you make it. You are no longer thinking like an employee, you are thinking like a leader.


Three tips for making the shift into management a bit smoother:

1.    Set up one-on-ones with your team: Nothing (and I mean nothing) is more powerful during a time of change than meeting individually with your team. Take the time to set up 1-on-1 meetings with each direct report to open up the lines of communication. Make sure that you are both on the same page about responsibilities and expectations.

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Meeting regularly shows your team you are acknowledging there has been a change and want to make the transition a smooth as possible. Whether you were promoted from within or newly hired into your first management role, this change isn’t just new for you, it’s new for them too! They may be anxious about how things will shift, so having a private space to ask questions or address concerns allows candor and trust to build.

2. Make a list of both personal and team goals: There’s something empowering about the act of writing goals on paper. It takes it from an idea to action. Take some time to consider the question - What do you hope to achieve as a manager and as a team? Be specific. Write out what you ideally want to see happen for both yourself as a new manager and for the team.  

Once you have goals, share them with your team and ask for input. What would they like to see change or improve? Is there something important to them that’s missing? What would they personally like to focus on this year? Creating goals allows you and the team to establish some direction for where the group is headed for the year.  

3.   Ask for feedback: Let’s be honest, constructive criticism isn’t always fun. No one likes to hear that they are not doing something well. But it is so important to be aware of how things are going when you first start a management role.  

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Be proactive in your own development. Don’t be afraid to check in with those you work with and ask: “How am I doing as a manager?” Have monthly meetings to ask your team and your peers for feedback, both positive and negative. Learning what is going right and wrong will make such an impact as you are growing your leadership skills.  

Now, I know this may seem like a lot to remember. You might feel overwhelmed by the additional responsibilities and changes that have to be made, and that’s OK! Be excited that you have been given the chance to prove that you’re a rockstar. It may take more time and effort than you expected to make the shift as a new manager, but with the right attitude, focus, tools and self-awareness you can do it.

I’m rooting for you!


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