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How to tell them they’re not up to par


Do you get nervous just thinking about how your employee or co-worker will react when you tell them they’re not keeping commitments or handling their share of the workload? Do you have an issue with a customer who’s taking up all your time but don’t know how to bring it up without risking the loss of their business?

Employees, supervisors, work teams and executives are asked to wrestle with numerous situations, tasks and responsibilities. They cannot afford to let small problems grow into big ones. Companies all over the world are learning that now is the time to master the skills for holding crucial conversations. According to Joseph Greeny, co-author of “Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High,” how people handle difficult conversations is one of the most reliable predictors of both organizational effectiveness and, conversely, organizational disaster.

These kinds of conversations can move quickly from casual to crucial. When they do, we’re caught off guard and generally are on our worst behavior. We yell, we cry or we withdraw. These responses lead us further away from the objective.

How do you create a culture where everyone feels comfortable and does not fear conversations in which the stakes are high, emotions run strong and there are opposing viewpoints?

By using techniques geared toward getting people to lower their defenses, creating mutual respect and understanding, increasing emotional safety and encouraging freedom of expression, your dreaded interpersonal exchanges can be successfully resolved without causing anger, committing career suicide or slowing productivity.

People who have mastered this ability have the skills to express controversial or even risky viewpoints in a way that communicates their message doesn’t offend or irritate their peers or leaders.

Often, sharing your initial feelings creates the most resistance. Try to start by evaluating the facts and motives behind the conversation. Ask yourself what you really want out of this conversation? Once you know what you want, would you still behave this way?

Can you remember the last time you received negative feedback and didn’t get defensive? Was it because you trusted the person giving you the feedback and knew they respected you? Remember this when communicating with others. Observe how others are reacting. Do they feel safe talking to you? Do they believe you respect them? Do they trust your motives?

Take the time to observe, and if you don’t like what you see, take a step back and create some security. Make them feel safe. Create the means for open communication again so that everyone understands the intent and the purpose of the conversation.

It’s impossible, of course, to change someone else’s behavior, but by understanding the reasons for what they say, you can alter your own behavior or your businesses culture to make it safer for them to converse in a mutually beneficial way. To manage your culture and master crucial conversations, you must start with yourself. Although it is easy to put the blame on the boss or a co-worker, you are the only person you can directly control, shape and change.

Take a look at yourself, and then listen to what you hear around the office. Do you hear crucial conversations being held and being held well? Do you make a conscious effort to let others know you respect them? Do people raise tough questions during meetings? Do employees provide management with positive and constructive feedback on a regular basis?

If you really want to invigorate your company, strengthen your teams, enhance productivity and improve your career, you must be able to face and appropriately master these crucial conversations. Conducting these kinds of critical conversations is not an inherent skill. It is a learned skill. A learned skill that is vital to the success of today’s business. Are you and your company ready?

Shirley Poertner owns Poertner Consulting Group LLC and is a certified crucial conversations facilitator.  

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