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New Manager’s Playbook: Having Difficult Conversations With Employees

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It’s a fairly routine deployment, but this time, it’s not full of victories. Something goes wrong—seriously wrong—and when the dust settles, you discover the problem centers on a basic mistake from one of your programmers.

To add to the pain, this particular programmer just happened to leave work early that day and miss all of the fun.

Your stomach is churning, your head is pounding, and you’re about ready to rip loose a torrent of frustration on innocent bystanders.

Welcome to management! Now is the perfect time to have a difficult conversation.

Veröffentlicht in: Leadership & Management
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New Manager’s Playbook: Having Difficult Conversations With Employees

  1. 1. New$Manager’s$Playbook:$Having$ Difficult$Conversa<ons$With$ Employees
  2. 2. It’s%a%fairly%rou.ne%deployment,%but%this%.me,%it’s%not%full%of% victories.%Something%goes%wrong—seriously%wrong—and%when%the% dust%se>les,%you%discover%the%problem%centers%on%a%basic%mistake% from%one%of%your%programmers.
  3. 3. To#add#to#the#pain,#this#par/cular# programmer#just#happened#to#leave#work# early#that#day#and#miss#all#of#the#fun. Your%stomach%is%churning,%your%head%is% pounding,%and%you’re%about%ready%to%rip% loose%a%torrent%of%frustra8on%on%innocent% bystanders.
  4. 4. Welcome'to'management! Now$is$the$perfect$.me$to$have$a$difficult$conversa.on.
  5. 5. Difficult(Conversa1ons,(Defined
  6. 6. A"difficult"conversion"is"any"interac2on"you"have"with"your"team" members"that"puts"you"in"posi2on"of"delivering"feedback"or" correc2on.
  7. 7. As#a#programmer,#you#probably#weren’t# forced#to#face#this#situa9on#because#you# were#responsible#for#your#own#work,# period.#As#a#manager,#you’ll#be#faced#with# ini9a9ng#these#emo9onally<charged# exchanges#on#a#regular#basis#in#a# suppor9ve,#professional#manner.
  8. 8. Difficult(conversa0ons(can(range(from(poin0ng(out(a(flaw(in(a( piece(of(work,(reinforcing(company(policy,(or(the(ul0mate—having( to(tell(someone(to(clean(out(their(desk(and(pick(up(their(last( paycheck(on(the(way(out(the(door.
  9. 9. We#all#love#giving#posi-ve#feedback,#like#breaking#the#news#about#a# promo-on#or#heaping#praise#on#the#person#who#saved#the#project# with#an#elegant#workaround. But$when$someone$you$manage$screws$up$and$it’s$5me$for$some$ good$old8fashioned$accountability,$most$people$would$rather$pay$ out$of$pocket$to$endure$a$root$canal$than$have$to$tell$their$former$ peer$that$they$screwed$up.
  10. 10. Why$Difficult$Conversa4ons$Are…$ Difficult
  11. 11. Let$me$point$out$the$obvious.$No#one# likes#conflict.$ In#today’s#work#environment,#where#we’ve# been#steeped#in#poli7cally#correct#no7ons# of#self:esteem#and#egalitarian# rela7onships,#these#top:down# conversa7ons#feel#soooo#1970s.##
  12. 12. Rather'than'playing'the'nice'guy,'you'have'to'act'like'an'authority' figure,'asking'people'to'toe'the'line,'straighten'up,'and'start'doing' be8er'work.'You’re'afraid'of'coming'off'like'your'junior'high' principal'with'his'polyester'suits,'rigid'ideals,'and'wooden'paddle.
  13. 13. Warning:(Duck(and(Cover(is(a(Dead(End
  14. 14. Naturally,)most)people)avoid)that)uncomfortable)place.) The$problem$is$that$most$managers$haven’t$found$a$more$ func7onal$system.$When$it$comes$to$team$issues,$they’d$rather$sit$ around$singing$“Kum$Ba$Yah”$than$give$nega7ve$feedback.$
  15. 15. In#fact,#most#well/inten1oned#new#managers#I#meet#tend#to#fall# into#one#of#two#less/than/produc1ve#camps#when#it#comes#to# conflict.
  16. 16. Those&in&the&first&camp!don’t!talk!about! problems!at!all,!hoping!deep!in!their!hearts! that!things!will!magically!improve!and!that! everyone!will!just!do!everything!perfectly! so!a!manager!won’t!have!to!step!in!at!all.
  17. 17. Those&in&the&second&camp!don’t!think!they!should!have!to!give! correc4on!and!instruc4on—team!members!should!just!“get!it”.! Usually,(a)er(months(of(watching(a(programmer(make(mistake(a)er( mistake((without(interven:on),(their(internal(scorecard(gets(filled( up,(and(they(decide(that(this(person(just(doesn’t(cut(it.(They(seethe( with(frustra:on(and(decide(that(the(only(solu:on(is(to(fire(the(guy.
  18. 18. Clearly,(there’s(a(lot(of(room(between(those(two(posi5ons(for(clear,( helpful(communica5on,(even(if(it’s(not(easy.( So#what’s#the#answer?
  19. 19. Have%More%Difficult%Conversa3ons
  20. 20. Don’t&start&looking&for&a&magical&mantra&or& a&perfect&script&to&make&these& uncomfortable&situa6ons&vanish.&You&want& to&learn&to&steer&the&ship,&not&look&for&an& escape&hatch.&
  21. 21. A"willingness"to"look"this"problem"in"the"eye"and"prac6ce"having" tough"conversa6ons"pays"huge"dividends."Believe"it"or"not,"these" conversa6ons"can"be"handled"in"a"way"where"you"and"your"team" can"see"them"as"a"normal—and"produc6ve—part"of"the"design" process.
  22. 22. These%tricky%conversa0ons%can%actually%be%an%effec0ve%tool%to% connect%with%team%members,%invest%in%their%skills,%and%help%the% company%deliver%a%quality%product%that%keeps%them%economically% viable.!
  23. 23. Before&you&call&someone&into&your&office&for&a&difficult& conversa4on,&it&can&take&the&pressure&off&a&bit&when&you&know&your& role&and&own&it&in&these&situa4ons.
  24. 24. Be#the#Conductor
  25. 25. Let’s&go&back&to&our&analogy&of&the&technology&manager&as&the& conductor&of&an&orchestra. Up#at#the#podium,#the#conductor#has#the#perspec2ve#to#see#and# hear#everything.#They#know#when#the#bassoon#player#misses#her# entrance.#They#hear#the#sloppy#fingering#of#the#third#violins#in#a# difficult#passage.
  26. 26. What%does%the%conductor%do%in%response? A"skilled"conductor"will"stop"the"rehearsal,"gently"and"clearly"point" out"the"mistake,"and"have"the"musicians"run"the"sec8on"again," several"8mes"if"necessary.
  27. 27. Conductors*know*there*should*be*li2le*or*no*shame*in*these* exchanges—it’s*just*part*of*preparing*an*en<re*group*for*a* magnificent*performance.*Usually,*a*few*minutes*of*focus*can* smooth*out*the*problem.
  28. 28. While&the&musicians&never&enjoy&ge4ng&singled&out&for&less7than7 stellar&playing,&they&also&understand&that&this&a:en;on&lands&on& everyone&eventually.&It’s&part&of&being&in&an&ensemble.
  29. 29. For$more$persistent$problems,$conductors$ will$usually$call$the$musicians$aside$and$ suggest$something$like$extra$rehearsal$ 9me$or$one:on:one$sessions$with$the$ sec9on$leader.$If$that$interven9on$doesn’t$ do$the$trick,$then$it$is$very$possible$that$ they’ll$be$looking$for$another$bassoon$ player$next$season.$
  30. 30. In#other#words,#clear#communica3on#concerning#individual#and# team#performance#has#a#predictable#pa9ern,#and#the#world#doesn’t# fall#apart#every#3me#the#conductor#points#out#a#need#for# improvement.
  31. 31. Small%conversa-ons,%big%payoff
  32. 32. Likewise,(you(can(offer(ongoing(feedback( in(small,(granular(ways(so(you(grow( comfortable(giving(correc9on(and(your( team(doesn’t(panic(when(they(receive(it.(
  33. 33. One$easy$way$to$do$this$is$by$offering$a$bit$ of$cri4cism$every$4me$you$review$a$piece$ of$work$from$a$team$member,$even$(and$ especially!)$if$it’s$minor.$Your$programmers$ will$soon$understand$that$you’re$paying$ aBen4on,$and$the$nudge$will$help$them$ level$up$their$game.
  34. 34. For$the$naysayers$who$think$that$their$ team$should$just$“get$it”$without$even$this$ simple$level$of$interven:on,$let$me$give$ you$a$wake<up$call. Yes,%we’ve%all%had%employees%who%walked% on%the%scene%somehow%knowing%exactly% what%needed%to%be%done%and%did%it% without%a%whisper%of%direc<on.%It%is%a% beau<ful%thing%to%behold.%
  35. 35. A"er%dealing%with%both%interns%and%seasoned%programmers%for% years,%I%can%tell%you%that%these%rock%stars%who%seem%to%automa;cally% “get%it”%had%someone%invest%in%them%and%train%them%in%the%basics%of% team%culture.%
  36. 36. Now$it’s$your$turn.$Here’s$how$to$use$that$power$wisely.
  37. 37. Be#a#Surgeon,#Not#a#Barbarian
  38. 38. In#every#manager’s#office#there#hangs#an#imaginary#sword.# It’s%a%sword%of%decision%and%power%that%was%handed%to%you%with%the% posi4on,%making%it%possible%for%you%to%respond%to%your%team’s%needs% without%having%to%run%to%your%manager%every%4me%there’s%an%issue.
  39. 39. Most%new%managers%eye%it%nervously,% hoping%and%praying%that%they’ll%never%have% to%touch%it.%Others%are%more%passive: aggressive,%eyeing%it%in%front%of%team% members%and%saying,%“Don’t%make%me% reach%for%this.”
  40. 40. In#either#case,#the#sword#rarely#gets#used,#which#just#makes#the# manager#look#really#clumsy#every#8me#he#tries#to#pick#it#up.
  41. 41. Prac%ce'creates'ease'and'finesse
  42. 42. Watch&li)le&kids&playing&with&swords.&The& first&8me&they&have&one&in&their&hands,& they&either&make&feeble&jabs&or&they&run& around&screaming&and&hacking&the&air…& and&their&siblings.&&
  43. 43. New$managers,$unfortunately,$do$the$same.$Some$are$so$6mid$with$ their$power$that$their$team$has$zero$confidence$in$their$skills$or$ leadership$abili6es.$Others$use$it$only$when$they’re$boiling$over$ with$frustra6on,$leaving$their$team$to$hit$the$decks$to$avoid$their$ wrath.
  44. 44. When%managers%make%a%conscious%choice% to%prac2ce%using%this%power%on%a% consistent%basis%with%an%average% workflow,%they’re%reducing%their%learning% curve%and%increasing%their%effec2veness.% With%a%li(le%prac-ce,%you%can%turn%your% sword%into%a%scalpel,%making%small,% pinpoint%cuts%that%leave%li(le%mess%and% quick%healing,%just%as%a%surgeon%does.
  45. 45. The$keys$to$this$approach$are$a$commitment$to$improving$a$bit$ each$week$and$having$a$simple,$reliable$plan$to$follow.$A;er$years$ of$trial$and$error$and$watching$some$truly$remarkable$managers,$ here’s$the$playbook$I’ve$created.
  46. 46. Six$Steps$to$Naviga.ng$Difficult$ Conversa.ons
  47. 47. Whether&your&first&difficult&conversa4on&is& in&the&future&or&you’ve&been&handling& them&badly&for&months,&have&the&courage& to&go&through&the&process&whenever&it& presents&itself.&I&guarantee&you,&in&most& cases,&the&outcome&won’t&be&as&bad&as&you& think&it&will&be.
  48. 48. Step%One:%No+ce%the%signals%that%say,%“Time% for%a%difficult%conversa+on!”
  49. 49. When%you’re%having%conflict%with%someone,%you%can%feel%the% frustra8on%all%over%in%your%body.%%Pay%a=en8on%to%the%pit%in%your% stomach,%clenched%fists,%or%tension%headache.%They’re%a%signal%that% it’s%8me%to%clear%the%air.
  50. 50. Some%mes,(the(signal(isn’t(a(feeling.(You( might(hear(yourself(say(things(like: This%always%happens… He%never%gets%this%right… Not%again…
  51. 51. Whatever(your(par-cular(trigger,(know(it(well(and(use(it(as(a(flag(to( take(ac-on(instead(of(bury(your(head(in(the(sand.
  52. 52. Step%Two:%Don’t%fume.%Commit%to%take% construc8ve%ac8on.
  53. 53. Avoiding(ac+on(will(only(create(resentment.(Choose(a(+me(in(the( immediate(future(where(you(can(discuss(the(problem(with(this( person(so(you(can(both(move(forward.
  54. 54. Step%Three:%Make%a%plan.
  55. 55. If#you’re#on#the#verge#of#losing#your#temper,#go#for#a#walk#or#take# some#deep#breaths.#This#is#not#a#<me#to#prepare#an#exact#script#or# build#a#bullet?point#litany#against#this#person,#it’s#just#<me#to#zero#in# on#the#core#of#the#problem#and#possible#solu<ons.
  56. 56. Let$off$a$li*le$steam,$talk$out$loud$to$ yourself$(in$private!)$or$sketch$out$your$ opening$line$(see$below),$but$don’t$burn$a$ lot$of$@me$on$this$point.$Move$forward.
  57. 57. Step%Four:%Have%the%mee0ng%in%private—soon.
  58. 58. Yes,%this%is%uncomfortable%for%the%team%member,%but%talking%to%them% one%on%one%will%provide%a%calm%environment,%remove%the%possibility% of%distrac:ons,%and%keep%eavesdroppers%out%of%earshot.%
  59. 59. And$if$they$do$have$that$sinking$feeling$as$ they$follow$you$to$your$office$for$a$private$ conference,$that’s$okay.$It’s$an$honest,$ nearly$unavoidable$reac=on.$This$is$a$ ma@er$that$needs$a@en=on,$and$they$will$ know$that$immediately.
  60. 60. Step%5:%Be%steady%and%on%point.
  61. 61. This%is%not%the%*me%to%pull%out%every%infrac*on%from%the%past%six% months%or%be%so%vague%about%the%problem%that%your%team%member% has%no%idea%what%problem%you’re%actually%discussing.%
  62. 62. Don’t&yell.&Don’t&repeat&yourself.&Don’t& bombard&them&with&informa7on&in&the& hopes&of&making&your&cri7cism&more&valid.
  63. 63. Ven$ng&your&anger&isn’t&produc$ve,&so&stay&focused&on&the& outcome&you&really&want&from&the&discussion.&Using&a&single& framing&sentence&usually&makes&things&crystal&clear.
  64. 64. I"like"to"use"the"word"“disappointed”"in"these"discussions."It’s"a" subtle"way"of"telling"this"person"that"I"do"hold"them"in"high"esteem," and"this"incident"doesn’t"match"that"overall"impression.
  65. 65. Here’s&one&of&my&favorite&go1to&scripts&in&these&tense&situa6ons: "John,'I'was'really'disappointed'when'X'happened.'I'want'to' understand'why'and'find'out'what'we'can'do'to'make'sure'it' doesn’t'happen'again."
  66. 66. Step%6:%Shut%up.%Listen.%Then%listen%some% more.
  67. 67. Silence'can'be'a'very'powerful'tool'in'these'situa5ons.'While'it'can' be'excrucia5ng'to'let'empty'space'hang'out'there,'do'it. Drink&some&coffee&or&count&to&10,&but&let&the&other&person&have& some&8me&to&collect&their&thoughts&or&get&past&an&emo8onal& moment.
  68. 68. When%your%team%member%does%respond,%resist%the%tempta3on%to% refute%what%they’re%saying%or%meet%their%defensiveness%(which%is% completely%understandable)%with%defensiveness%of%your%own.%Be% willing%to%take%the%blame%for%any%mistakes%on%your%part%and%circle% around%to%the%solu3on.
  69. 69. Always'focus'on'the'solu0on.
  70. 70. While&an)cipa)ng&these&difficult&conversa)ons&is&never&a&picnic,& each&)me&you&move&past&the&fear&and&choose&to&get&through&them,& you&develop&more&experience,&more&perspec)ve,&and&more& confidence.
  71. 71. Even%be'er,%you%are%able%to%improve%communica4on%within%your% team,%making%your%job%even%easier.
  72. 72. One$day,$you$may$even$find$a$team$ member$knocking$on$your$door$saying,$ "Can%we%talk?%I%screwed%up%and%I%want%to% make%sure%it%doesn’t%happen%again."
  73. 73. Become&a&Be(er&Technical&Manager I"get"paid"to"coach"newly"minted"technical"managers."My"clients" quickly"feel"drama:cally"more"confident"and"capable"and"start" seeing"be=er"performance"from"themselves"and"their"team"within" weeks. I"am"taking"the"same"insigh-ul,"ac2onable"lessons"I"teach"in"my" coaching"and"pu8ng"them"out"as"a"free"newsle<er."Sign"up"to" become"a"be<er"manager"here.

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