Facing the difficult conversation

Anyone managing people faces a moment when a performance review might include a difficult conversation. I was reading an article today on the 4 questions you must ask yourself before such a difficult conversation, by Mike Brown. It prompted me to offer four further distinctions to consider before talking with an employee about problematic behaviors or level of performance.

These will help you, the manager, and the person youre talking with.

If you are a manager who finds these conversations challenging, you are not alone. But have them you must. The cost of avoiding them is high, and the organizational dysfunction that results will catch and will spread. This managerial challenge and the need to address it, is put into stark relief in a recent Roffey Park (UK) survey. It says, we’re seeing managers further down the line struggling to cope with basic issues such as implementing change and dealing with under performing staff” and cites the widespread inadequacy of training in this area.


To even begin to address this, we need to see the critical role of state of mind in the success or failure of difficult conversations. Ill offer these four distinctions as a starting point:

Reflection is Preparation
Drop your agenda
Connecting is Not The Same As Talking
The why is the Easy Part
Reflection Is Preparation

It is important to prepare for difficult conversations. But what kind of preparation makes the biggest difference?

If you arent doing this already, get attuned to your own state of mind. Do an internal review and notice the intimate connection between your own mood and your thinking about this conversation or this person. If you are dreading the conversation, dont be surprised if your mood is low. If you are open to such an inventory, you will see that your emotional state is the barometer of your own quality of thinking. You might have assumed how you felt was the inevitable response to the situation at hand. Check and see. Youll find your opinions and judgements are creating the emotion are you experiencing. Recognize this and get real about where you are.

Recognize that emotions, like thoughts, are changing things. As a manager, you want to be as clear and relaxed for this conversation, right? Most people plow ahead into tough situations regardless of their own state of mind, assuming their state of mind is irrelevant or unavoidable. Heightening your awareness of your internal world will help you avoid adding another level of difficulty to the conversation. If you are in a low state of mind, recognize that and act accordingly. Nothing cant wait until tomorrow when your mood has changed. It will give you a chance to stop blaming your own state of mind on the situation or the person.

Just as an athlete spends time learning to clear the mind before a race so they can be in their best mental shape, attention to our state of mind when leading a difficult conversation can be a make or break difference.

Drop Your Agenda

No matter what preparation youve made or what points need to be covered, be prepared to drop them all in order to have a human-to-human conversation. If you have set questions or things you must cover because you are in a formal review process, do not let these interfere with having a real conversation. (If there are legal ramifications, all the more valuable that you stay clear-headed!) If your head is taken up in covering all the agenda items or you are preoccupied elsewhere, you literally will not hear the other person. They will know this and respond accordingly.

Be ready to put the agenda aside and just listen with nothing on your mind. You may hear things you never heard before.

Difficult Conversation? Drop Your Agenda!Connecting is Not The Same As Talking

It is good to spend a moment to become aware of the other persons mood and the feeling in the room before beginning the conversation. All people have their moods and your words are unlikely to be heard by someone lost in concern and worry.

Conversations have a tone to them and it is not difficult to feel what that is. Sometimes simply slowing down allows you to notice more. You will then be able to determine how to adjust. You can discuss difficult situations, problems and even crisis, without the tenor of the conversation going down if the feeling between you is relaxed.

We are becoming accustomed to human conversation taking place while both parties multi-task. This is unacceptable in a conversation of this nature. Turn cell phones off, leave other devices outside and decide to give someone the gift of your undivided attention. If you stay in the moment with someone live youll be astounded how much faster things get ironed out. Avoid interrupting and give them your total inward attention. Listen as if you didnt know them at all.

Nancy Klines wonderful book on the Thinking Environment Time to Think : Listening to Ignite the Human MindDifficult Conversation? Drop Your Agenda! is an essential read for all managers. In it she reveals how deeper listening actually draws out the ability in others to think well. If you want someone to hear you when you are telling them their behaviors are problematic, lead by listening. In fact, based on what Ive seen, the more you label someone as difficult the more you sink them into their own thinking about it and so the behavior continues.

The Why Is The Easy Part

When managing difficult behaviors, you really do not need to understand why people do each different thing they do. People always do everything for the same reason: behavior depends on the quality of anyones thinking at a given time. As managers, it helps us open to others to see that anyone can have fresh thinking at any time. Ability to change behavior is unrelated to personality types.

No one can be in perfect, high-level thinking and clarity in all moments. Everyone dips and rises. By understanding this, you can let low moments pass by rather than trying to fix things from your lowest point. After all, theres a reason we have the saying to sleep on it.

In sum, behaviors are never in response to the situation, they are in response to what someone perceives about a situation. As such, the most helpful thing you can do is to help someone realize that thinking can and does shift. When it does, what looked to them as reasonable or justifiable will no longer seem so.

No matter how problematic the situation or the behaviors look, that does not mean your conversation about it needs to be difficult.


What Is State of Mind?

There are a few misunderstandings about what is meant when we talk about the importance of State of Mind. Lets take a moment to clear those up.

What Is State of Mind?One assumption is that state of mind relates to you get what you think about. This implies that if one thinks bad thoughts, bad things will happen. A popular notion, but it is not what …
Categories: Performance, Performance Evaluation & Assessment, Productivity, State Of Mind, Training

Tags: Performance, Performance Training, State of Mind

We Are All Leaders

Posted by: Elese Coit

One of the things we teach leaders in our Masterclass Series on Leadership and management is that we are all leaders. Or put this way, everyone has the innate capacity to lead.

When you know how the human mind works you see that leadership is in everyone. Understanding State of Mind helps it to come forward.

A persons state of mind is the determining factor in how much access they …
Categories: Human Potential, Leadership, Performance, State Of Mind

Tags: Clarity, Emotions, Excellence, Innate Capacities, Leadership, Leadership Development, Natural Performance, Performance, Pressure, State of Mind, uncluttered mind

All About Process? Business Improvement Must Factor in People

Posted by: Elese Coit

Does iron-clad process guarantee success?

All About Process? Business Improvement Must Factor in PeopleSaying business process improvement guarantees success is a bit like saying, as long as you have the recipe, it doesnt matter who makes the cake. In theory, that seems true. In truth, thats just a theory.

Ive spent an entire career working within processes and workflows and Ive …
Categories: Business Success, Change Management, Human Resources, Management Best Practices, Process Improvement

Tags: Best Practice, Business Process, Change Management, Process Improvement, Robust Process

Leadership is Neither Born Nor Made. So How To Train For It?

Posted by: Elese Coit

Leadership is Neither Born Nor Made. So How To Train For It?What are the skills of a great leader?

That is a bit like asking, What are the tricks of a great dog?

Anyone can look at a leader and see what they do and describe the way that looks. But that is not the way we should train for …
Categories: Human Capital Management, Human Potential, Leadership, Training

Tags: Excellence, Human Capital Management, Human Potential, Leadership, Leadership Development, Training

Difficult Conversation? Drop Your Agenda!

Posted by: Elese Coit

Difficult Conversation? Drop Your Agenda!Facing the difficult conversation.

Anyone managing people faces a moment when a performance review might include a difficult conversation. I was reading an article today on the 4 questions you must ask yourself before such a difficult conversation, by Mike Brown. It prompted me to offer four further distinctions to consider before talking with …
Categories: Business Success, Management Best Practices, Performance, State Of Mind

Tags: Business Success, Difficult Conversations, Difficult People, Human Capital Management, Listening, Management Best Practice, Manager Challenges, Performance, State of Mind

What Kills Ideas? Getting Beyond Brainstorming

Posted by: Elese Coit

What Kills Ideas? Getting Beyond BrainstormingIf there is one thing we could use more of these days, its good ideas. So I was very interested to find this article on the pitfalls of brainstorming, asserting that although people enjoy it, there is no proof that brainstorming sessions are any more effective than simply asking people to sit and come up …

Categories: Performance, Productivity, State Of Mind

Tags: Brainstorming, Clarity, Creativity, Deadlines, Good Ideas, Google, Innovation, Natural Performance, Pressure, Productivity, State of Mind

Performance is Inside You. Five Ways to Improve Natural Performance

Posted by: Elese Coit

Performance is Inside You. Five Ways to Improve Natural PerformanceActors have millions of potential characters inside themselves. Olympic athletes reach deep inside themselves to find the push for the finish line.

Where do we look when we want to improve our own performance?

Here is a salutary tale and 5 ways to lift your personal performance levels.

A Tale of Two Performances
Let …
Categories: Business Success, Creativity and Innovation, Human Potential, Performance, State Of Mind, Talent Management

Tags: Accomplishment, Comfort Zone, Concentration, Creativity, Excellence, Human Capital Management, Human Potential, Innovation, Multi-tasking, Natural Performance, Performance, strees, Talent, Talent Management, Worry

Thrive or Survive at Work? The Key Ingredient State of Mind

Posted by: Elese Coit

Thrive or Survive at Work? The Key Ingredient … State of MindUnderstanding State of Mind is critica


All About Process? Business Improvement Must Factor in People

Does iron-clad process guarantee success?

All About Process? Business Improvement Must Factor in PeopleSaying business process improvement guarantees success is a bit like saying, as long as you have the recipe, it doesnt matter who makes the cake. In theory, that seems true. In truth, thats just a theory.

Ive spent an entire career working within processes and workflows and Ive finally learned what does make for successful business processes.

The key to process is People and The Way They Think

The way they think is the critical part. Ill come back to that shortly. First, here is how I unlocked this.

One day, in graphic detail and via the spectacular failure of very talented people to produce a successful project outcome, I learned a business could have robust process, great people and still fail. Up until that point, naively, I actually thought that was impossible. This was my first eye-opener.


There is no inherent guarantee of success in any process. We already know that, of course. We also realize that success or failure does lie in the hands of the people who use the process. But here is the critical distinction it doesnt lie in peoples talent, skill or willingness it lies in the state of mind of people at the moment they are using the process. This is what I finally saw.

You too can prove that this is true through simple observation, because it is state of mind that produces all human behavior at any given time. This is true of all people, all day long, in every walk of life. It seemed amazing to me that I had never truly seen this. And it took a while to dawn on me how powerful knowing this would be.

Solving the Riddle

As director of a Program and Project Management Division at British Telecom, I was in charge of people as well as training and processes. Id been a user and learner of processes before that, from Prince II, to Six Sigma and well beyond. I speak not just from the experience of trying to implement, use and fix processes, but from the point of view of a person who actually gives a damn.

I cannot even imagine delivering a worldwide IT network for a client and NOT having any processes at all, but I can also see that our weakness is relying on process without paying enough attention to people. So what kind of attention should we be paying? Our efforts to bonus people into good behaviors arent working (See Daniel Pinks TED talk on Motivation below). Experience taught me that performance management alone wouldnt solve the problem. I was forced to look for something more powerful, universal and practical.

The BIG missing piece

The answer lies in the part of the equation that runs underneath and throughout all processes peoples state of mind. Peoples state of mind affects everything they do, whether it is solving problems, delivering products, serving clients, innovating or implementing processes. You can have highly skilled, talented, best-of-class people underperform at times and when they do it is always down to this one missing piece.

Its been my experience, after 10 years running IT programs globally, that if you leverage state of mind as an organization
1. Fewer issues arise in the first place
2. You need far less process to resolve issues
3. The processes you have begin to run more smoothly

At TrueChange we shift people rather than process to achieve this. Once people are clear-headed, not only do new ideas begin to flow, but it becomes glaringly obvious to people how to fix their broken business processes if that is what needs to be done.

It is a matter of focus. Putting focus here and making state of mind an integral part of any business process improvement initiative is what will turn your lackluster improvement efforts into meaningful results . (For more, listen to the audio case study Leading Business Change is An INside OUT job).

Elese Coit is CEO of TrueChange Consultants, a company that partners with organizations to unleash the FULL potential of people through State of Mind Trainings. She is the author of 101 New Pairs of Glasses a book that is being used by educators to teach the power of perspective to shape our lives and her latest book is Inner Directed: Ten Keys To Fine Tune Your Gut Instincts.


Shine In Internet Marketing

What do you know about internet marketing? Do you have a marketing plan? If you do, do you wish to improve upon it? Its what you’re using working with your business or against it? Are you sure you are marketing properly? If you cannot answer these questions confidently, look at the tips below.

If you’re looking to increase visibility for your own blog, you need to begin making the investment now in commenting on other peoples blogs. Every time you post a blog comment, it links back to your own blog and will lead people back to your own page. By commenting actively, not only are your own comments boosting your online profile, you’re becoming more engaged and encouraging others to do the same for you.

Give clear direction to your consumers without being too pushy. You want your customers to buy from you and to do this, they need to know how. Tell them which links to click, what to fill out and where to find the information they need, to complete the process. If your readers have to guess how to do something, they are not likely to complete the process.

If you are trying to put out your product on the internet, it is important that your internet site does not get lost in statistics. You must always keep in mind that the main point of your internet site is to catch your visitors attention. You must not bog your site down with too much data.

Are you more informed when it comes to internet marketing? Do you have a new plan or do you have a better plan now? Can you now promote your business better? Do you know how to properly market your site? With any luck, the tips above should have created better answers.



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