The Conversations We Hate to Have at Work
In September, we get serious about our careers again. The summer’s distractions behind us, everyone’s back in the office and reapplying themselves to those lurking issues we’ve put off for so long. Performance review season heats up, job searches commence, reorganizations take effect, and big conversations are prepared.
And that’s the part we hate the most. Those awkward, semi-confrontational talks that go alongside significant changes at work.
It almost makes you want to stay on autopilot until the next wave of change…January.
But of course, at some point to move forward we do have to have the hard discussions. So we prepare and practice — and sometimes freewheel it — and hope the outcome is worthy of our intentions.
If cogitating is your game, two of my favorite books on the topic of conversations are Fierce Conversations and Crucial Conversations. Both provide a framework for structuring your discussion, with plenty of practice dialogues as examples. I also developed a conversational model to plan your talking points in line with your true intention.
As a coach who helps clients mine these issues, I find it interesting how we struggle with the same discussions. Turns out the conversation you don’t want to have, no one else wants to have either. Here are the top four conversations that trip us up:
1. I want more money.
We’re trained from our childhood that it’s rude to discuss money, so it’s no surprise that we abhor this conversation. We’re also socialized to be team players, and not appear self-serving. Yet, we all know money matters for reasons both financial and emotional.
Conversation fix: Supervisors expect to have money conversations but hate surprises or feeling pressured. Have these conversations sparingly, and in a serious yet non-threatening way. One tactic I like is to schedule an “expectations” conversation early, to let your boss know what you’re thinking and to learn what’s possible. This gives everyone more data and time to prepare without feeling against the wall.
2. You’re fired.
It’s good that we hate to fire people because it’s an indignity that stays with them. Studies have shown that it can take years for one’s ego to rebound after a termination. And, I’ve yet to meet a good manager who hasn’t fired people at some point. To get excellence you can’t ignore mediocrity.
Conversation fix: There’s so much pent-up emotion in these discussions that we gird ourselves for the worst: legal issues, emotional outbursts, industry retribution. It doesn’t have to come to that. Catch people early in the process, and keep them in the loop about their performance. Set the stage — improve or exit. If you allow people to manage their own progress, they’ll often manage themselves out of the job.
3. I quit.
The discomfort in this conversation often takes us by surprise. We dream of the satisfaction we’ll feel telling our company we’re history, yet when the time comes, it’s not so easy. After all, we want to be remembered well, and when we’re free of our ties, we consider our former employers more fondly. We may be letting our boss or colleagues down.
Conversation fix: Stay positive and gracious. You can be honest about why you’re leaving, but don’t use the time to gripe. And whatever you do, give your best until the last day. People remember how you leave, not how you began.
4. What’s my future here?
You may be surprised at how many outwardly confident, successful senior executives privately fret about not knowing what’s ahead in their careers. Rising through a corporate hierarchy can seem deliberately opaque, which keeps us from asking for clarity. After all, if those in power wanted us to know, they’d tell us, right? Turns out, they may never tell…so you have to ask.
Conversation fix: This one is simple — if in doubt, ask. You deserve to know what’s possible for you, and what to expect. You can’t manage your career in the dark. Just as with money, don’t have these conversations once a week. But during a performance review (or yearly if you don’t have a formal process) is the perfect time to ask. Ask directly, and with the confidence that it’s your right.
Kristi Hedges is a leadership coach, speaker and author of Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage Others. Find her at kristihedges.com and @kristihedges.
(Image by Ambro)
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