The profile of a 'Complete' Manager
The Complete Manager 11 of 14: Difficult Conversations
We're continuing our examination of the profile of a 'complete' manager - one who daily achieves Predictable Success® for herself, her team, and the organization she works for.
Over the last couple of months we have seen that the foundation of a complete manager lies in their ability to enhance their productivity. More specifically in the areas of; time management, priority management, crisis management and delegation.
We progressed in the series to look at the second group of key skills; Developing Others. In this area we have demonstrated how the Complete Manager provides consistent, on-going performance assessment, ensures their team receives appropriate mentoring and coaching and finally, empowers their employees to make decisions.
We are now looking at the third group of key skils; Teamwork. Last week we looked at area of Conflict Management.
(If you want to follow along the connections between the 14 characteristics, you can download a copy of the Complete Manager Brain Map - a pdf version of the graphic at top right).
You can track the series using this progress bar:
On a typically Monday Morning
It's a Monday morning and you've just discovered that James, one of your top sales people, left the office on Friday without filing his sales report for the week. You have a meeting with your manager first thing this morning to talk about your team's performance over the last month. Without James' figures, you will not have a complete set of data to report and, invariably, you'll get it in the neck.
You persist through the sales meeting, trying as hard as you can to put a positive spin on your incomplete data set. Your manager is not impressed. Eventually you come out of the meeting dejected. You feel like your skills as a manager are being brought into question. Slumping into your chair you hear the door to the office open. You spin round, It's James, carrying a cup of coffee in one hand and a sheet of paper in the other. You look at your watch, he's twenty minutes late.
"Sorry I'm late boss" he says, flashing a cheeky grin.
"You know how traffic can be?" He takes a sip of his coffee.
"Oh before I forget. Here's my sales report." James hands you a crumpled piece of paper.
"Sorry I couldn't get it to you on Friday. I was really stressed and needed to get out of the office."
"Uh-huh" you say, looking at the sheet of paper. Once you get passed the barely legible, hand-written scrawl you realize that it's not even been completed properly; figures are incorrect, invoices are missing, customer details are wrong.
He cuts you off. "Can't talk now boss..." He turns round and heads for the door.
"...those widgets won't sell themselves." And then he's gone.
What a start to the week! What makes it worse is this is becoming a typical Monday morning scene. James is one of the company's leading sales people but when it comes to putting the back-end processes in place he doesn't want to know about it. You are constantly cleaning up after him and it's getting to the point where you've had it. Something needs to change.
You know that you need to sit down and talk with James but, to be honest, you're a little intimated by the prospect. Every time you try to start a conversation, he comes up with an excuse and tells you that later would be better. As one of the company's leading sales people you don't want to stifle his ability to sell but you also know that his lack of follow through in other areas is having a toll on you and your other team members as they pick up his slack.
There are a multitude of circumstances in which a manager will find herself having to deal with a difficult situation. Whether they're dealing with their own teams, their peers, or 'managing up' to their bosses, the Complete Manager knows how to conduct a difficult conversation - how to be 'ruthlessly constructive' and how to tell bad news without fear or favor.
Avoiding these "hard" conversations results in sub-optimal performance continuing for longer than necessary.
Your challenge as a Complete Manager is to approach 'difficult' conversations with the same attitude you take into 'pleasant' conversations: fairness, openness and gentleness.
There are five behaviors the Complete Manager can exhibit that will help to handle difficult conversations effectively.
1. Address difficult or negative issues when they arise
In the example above, it appears this is not the first time that James has failed to complete a required part of his job function. It seems that rather than deal with the situation as soon as it arose, the manager in question let James get away with it again and again.
This has two very dangerous affects. The first is that James will never learn the importance of completing the back-end part of his job. The more that people clean up after him, the more he will assume, this is OK. In reality his team and his manager are 'enabling' him to be bad at his job.
Secondly, as we can clearly see, the manager in the example has become frustrated and deflated. Cleaning up after James time and time again is really beginning to take a toll. This is leading to a sub-optimal performance from the manager.
Rather than let situations fester until breaking point, the complete manager will address them as soon as they arise. Rather than wait until they can no longer carry James slack, the complete manager would have confronted the situation the first time James failed to complete a task integral to his job description. No matter how big his sals figures are.
The next time a difficult or negative issue arise amongst your team, peers, direct reports or managers, make sure you handle it or schedule a time to deal with it immediately.
2. Is graceful and diplomatic in addressing such issues
You can imagine that right now James's manager feels like being anything but graceful and diplomatic. They probably want to rip their hair out and jump up and down screaming and shouting until steam comes out of their ears. This will probably not help them get their message across, in fact it will probably have an adverse effect. They need remove their own feelings of frustration from the situation and begin to look at it more objectively. They will also need to handle the situation with tact. Scheduling a meeting with James for example, rather than charging like a raging bull into his office.
Before you confront any difficult or negative situation, ensure you are in a position were you can approach the situation with grace and diplomacy. Chances are if you follow the first point, this will be easier to do as you have not let your frustration grow to breaking point.
3. Is clear and unambiguous regarding the issue at hand
Now that James' manager has resolved to handle the situation in a graceful and diplomatic way, it's essential they remove any and all ambiguity from the conversation they are about to have. James needs to know exactly what aspect of his performance his manager is unhappy about, what the consequences are if his performance continues in this way and what his manager is expecting him to do to improve his performance. It's important that James' manager gets these issues clear in their mind before approaching James.
This clarity of the problem will give James no further grounds to make excuses. He will know exactly what is expected of him and won't be able to hide behind his own ignorance to the situation.
The next time you are preparing for a difficult conversation, make sure you are clear in your own mind over the issue. Spend time planning the conversation. Then communicate to the other party with clarity and without ambiguity.
4. Ensures there are no 'hidden agendas' when discussing difficult or negative issues
When James' manager has the discussion with him about his performance, it has to be about his performance. It should be the issue at hand that is being discussed. There can't be any hidden agendas in the conversation. It would be unwise for example, for James' manager to appear that they are trying to help James improve his performance whilst at the same time they are working behind the scenes on getting him fired. Not only will this not help James in the long run it will reflect poorly on the ethics of his manager.
The next time you have a 'difficult conversation' make sure you are discussing the issues at hand. Ensure that you do not bring a hidden agenda.
5. Is open and non-defensive when dealing with difficult or negative situations
Let's say James reacts badly to the difficult conversation and starts accusing the manager of trying to micro-manage the situation. James brings up a number of instances were his manager has been 'breathing down his neck' and how it's really affecting his performance. It would be very easy in this situation for the manager to feel like they are under personal attack. They shout back at James telling him that if he would fill out his paperwork correctly then there would be no need for him to be micro-managed. The result is that both the manager and James are even more frustrated and the situation has not progressed in a positive manner.
Instead of jumping on the defensive foot, James' manager should be open to what James has to say and to judge it in the objective light of the situation. It may be the case that James is highlighting areas the manager needs to work on. In which case both parties can learn from the exchange.
When you are having a difficult conversation remember that it is a two-way process. By open to what the other person is saying and do not become defensive. You may find areas in your management skill set that need to be improved.
Dealing with a difficult conversation is inevitably going to be difficult! However, if you begin to work these five behaviors into your interactions with others, you will start to see that these conversations become a little easier.
We've put together five questions that will help you to diagnose your Difficult Conversations skills. Take a look below to see how you're doing.
Members: click here
to download a workbook containing these and other questions covering all 14 Complete Manager key skills
If two or more answers are in the 'Never' or 'Sometimes' columns, consider getting help. If three or more answers are in the 'Never' or 'Sometimes' columns, don't consider not getting help!
Next up: In the next article, we'll move into the third key Teamwork skill; Communication Skills.
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