Let’s SPEAK about having Challenging Conversations

Rams_having_a_male_fightAs an intern supervisor and project leader on a small team; I’m always looking for ways to practice the many skills I have learned during the leadership and management trainings that I have attended in the past.  Several recent opportunities have given me the chance to practice my skills of having a Challenging Conversation with others.

One of these opportunities began a few months ago when my wife and I noticed the neighbor downstairs has been playing his movies and music at an increased volume and frequency. “He must have purchased a new home theater system,” I thought to myself. On the slight chance that the situation would correct itself, I decided to ignore it… for now. Unfortunately, the frequency and volume of playing his music and movies not only continued, it had predictably gotten worse. Now, there was a different type of noise rumbling from the unit below. It didn’t sound like music or a movie; he was now playing video games on his new home theater system. Something must be done about this noise.

I’m not usually one who embraces the opportunity to have a challenging conversation with someone, but my sanity and the thirst for quietness is a good enough reason to force me into action. Thoughts that have come to my mind about this situation have included:
“How did the situation get to this?”
“How could I have prevented it?”
“Was there anything I did to prompt it?”
“What if the situation gets worse?”
“How do I approach my neighbor in a non-threating and non-confrontational way?”
“What if I don’t get the response I am looking for from my neighbor, what will I do then?”
“Is there something I’ve learned in the past about how to have challenging conversations?”

Fortunately, the answer to my last question is “Yes!” I attended a class a few years ago on how to have Challenging Conversations and they shared a 5-step model for having those conversations.

They are:
S – State your concern directly
P – Probe for information to gain deeper understanding
E – Engage each other through whole-hearted listening
A – Attend to body language
K – Keep forward-focused when possible
Challenging Conversations by Kalish, Erin, and Patricia Zigarmi. The Ken Blanchard Companies and Workplace Connections, LLC, 2007.

When the next opportunity presents itself, I plan to use this model during the conversation with my neighbor. I invite you to mark your calendars for my next blog posting on July 23rd when I explain how I used each step of the model and the result of my challenging conversation. I’d also love to hear in the comments below, examples of your own challenging conversation techniques that have led to successful outcomes.

Why Is Your Tummy So Big? (4 Factors for a Powerful Question)

(Editor's Note: This is not the author's tummy.)

(Editor’s Note: This is not the author’s tummy.)

I’ve always battled with my weight. This last year has been especially tough as I’ve had to take a break from my other career (as a prolific goal scorer in adult recreational soccer leagues) due to nagging injuries that have turned into chronic injuries. I started playing almost 30 years ago and haven’t had any significant periods away from the game until now. The wear and tear has caught up with my knees and ankles.

When you’ve got chronic pain in your knees and ankles, getting regular aerobic exercise is a challenge. It hurts to walk, let alone to go for a jog or a run. Exercise for me has always been specific to the sport I’m playing. Take away the sport and I don’t get enough exercise. Take away the exercise and my clothes fit tighter than they should be.

I’ve been telling myself that I need to do something. Yeah, tomorrow I’ll do something. Of course, tomorrow soon turns into yesterday, then last week, then last month, and here I am still sitting in my recliner. So one night while I’m sitting there with my 5-year-old son, he turns to me and asks, “Dada, why is your tummy so big?”

As soon as the words left his lips, my wife chuckled and then got embarrassed for me. I initially had a similar reaction. Kids say the darndest things…often when you least expected or are prepared for them. During my pause to think about how to respond, I realized he’d asked an incredibly powerful question. For his purposes, I used it as a teaching moment and answered it with a simple statement about the importance of a healthy diet and exercise, and that I needed to get better at both.

The answer I gave him was good enough for him, but it wasn’t good enough for me. Like most Dads, I want to be a superhero in my son’s eyes. And, I don’t want my alter-ego to be “Flabby Man.” So his question got me off the recliner and moved me into action. I did some research on local gyms and will be signing up for one this week…let the journey begin.

Upon further reflection, here are four factors that made his question so powerful:

  1. The Person Delivering the Question. There’s built in credibility. He looks up to me and I don’t want to disappoint. Most importantly, there’s an established positive relationship.
  2. It Lacked Judgement. Consider the alternative that most of us are used to hearing…“have you lost weight?” Which is roughly the equivalent of saying, “you were fat and I can’t tell if you’re any less fat than you used to be.” The best questions are those that aren’t judgmental, accusatory, or have hidden agendas. I honestly don’t know if my son loves my big tummy or is disgusted by it, he just wanted to know why it is the way it is. But…
  3. It Caused Me To Think. I was pushed to examine the factors behind the issue in question. And…
  4. It Motivated Me Into Action. After voicing the factors that led to the issue, I was motivated to consider the solutions and to act on them.

Good coaching sometimes comes when you least expect it and from those you least expect it to come from. Out of the mouths of babes.

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Seriously, How Are You Doing?

“How are you doing?”

What a loaded and complicated question. Even though I hear it on a daily basis, and know it’s coming, it always catches me off guard.

It can be incredibly difficult to tell if the person posing the question really wants an honest answer. More often than not, they’re using it as a simple greeting. Like when you pass someone in the hall and, without skipping a stride, have this simple exchange:

“Hey, how are you doing?”

“Good, you?”

“Good, thanks.”

Continue reading

The Corporate Ladder: To Climb or Not To Climb

Last week I read a great post by Ted Coine over at the Switch And Shift blog that really resonated with me. The title of the post was, “You and Your People: Very Different Motivations.” In his post, Ted challenges the common leadership assumption that all employees want and need to continue their ascent up the corporate ladder.

“One of the worst problems we have is that we put ourselves in the shoes of others, rather than trying to understand what the world looks like to them from their shoes.”

In his post, Ted shares the story of a friend who is currently in an uncomfortable place of contentment in her current role. As she or anyone who has found themselves in this situation can attest, it is uncomfortable because you don’t want your being content to be misinterpreted as being unmotivated or disengaged. To avoid these dreaded labels, here are some tips to consider when explaining to your supervisor that, “All I really want is to do my job even better than I do now…”

  • Know Your Role, Grow Your Role. Understand and be able to explain how your role adds value to the organization. Additionally, continually look for ways to enhance and improve your role and be prepared to share those ideas.
  • Share How Your Vision and Values Align With Those of the Organization. Even if you’re not 100% totally aligned, sharing the commonalities can go a long ways toward helping your supervisor understand that you’re still on board with the program.
  • Request More Frequent Reviews/Check-Ins. Never say never…6 months or 6 years from now, you’re liable to change your mind and want to start climbing the ladder again. Whether that’s the case or not, requesting more frequent feedback helps demonstrate that you’re serious about continuing to excel in your current role, while also providing a forum to discuss future opportunities should they arise.
  • Help Them Get To Know You Better. Odds are your feelings of contentment are influenced heavily by what’s going on in your personal life. Allowing your supervisor to have some insight into that should help them understand why you feel the way you do.

Do you have any other tips? Have you ever had this conversation, either as employee or as manager? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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