One of my toughest conversations
A few years ago, I was sitting in my office dreading a meeting that I was about to have with a key executive.

It was going to be a tough conversation about an employee who wasn’t quite meeting expectations.

Having that part of the conversation wasn’t hard at all..my challenge was having to also address this leader for his lack of empathy and unwillingness to try to help the employee succeed. Although the employee wasn’t performing well, he definitely deserved a chance to improve his performance or be considered for another role. But the leader wasn’t willing due to his personal bias to put someone else in the role. How did I know this? He told me.

Imagine how it must have felt for me to have to *remind* him of our prior conversation about who he really wanted in the role and how that was getting in the way of his responsibility to do the right thing in managing this performance issue.

In my book, The Leadership Mastery Formula, I share the three things that truly shaped the core of my leadership brand:

  • asking provocative but relevant questions
  • engaging in two-way conversations
  • giving honest and authentic feedback by telling people what they needed to hear in order to grow.

It was this little flashback to my early career that reminded me of what I needed to do and how I needed to approach this conversation. I knew that I had to choose the right type of conversation in order to create a win-win that would serve both the employee and the manager. I wanted to ensure the employee was given a fair chance to improve his performance while also assuring the manager that he could continue to have those conversations with me. I needed to leave him knowing that our relationship was a safe space for us to continue engaging in touchy topics and that I would only use those conversations as a basis to support him in satisfying his goals.

As I prepared for my meeting, I had to consider which one of the following six communication approaches to use in order to create a win for everyone.  

Left Brain. The left brain is the seat of facts, logic, analysis, information, and data. When you know facts, it’s easier to convince the left brain person that your idea makes sense. However, remember that this is simply a guideline and you have to be careful not to overuse the left brain. There are limits to facts and logic. For instance, it’s hard to win over someone’s heart with a PowerPoint presentation.

Right Brain. The right brain is where we process images, stories, metaphors, and pictures. It is the gateway to the subconscious. By using more stories and images, you can reach people at a different level than with the left brain alone.

Intuition. Using your intuition is good when you need to create a win:win outcome while being clear about your needs, say something like:

I will do X if you do Y….

I like A, but I don’t like B.

Going forward I need you to…

Heart. When you need to garner support, need help or ask for forgiveness, leading with your heart to tie your idea to feelings is an effective strategy. Keep it simple by asking for what you need, get them involved and listen in order to reflect back what you hear.  Apologize and make amends if appropriate. Do not lead with your heart if you can’t be authentic.

Vision. Leading with Vision is good when you need to re-energize someone, kick off a project or get them excited about the next steps. In order for people to rally around and support your vision, they must somehow see themselves in that vision so be sure to punctuate the shared values and beliefs that you have. This is not the time to get stuck in the spirit as it can circumvent the process.

Legs. I know this sounds strange but sometimes a conversation can get too emotionally charged or you may simply find yourself not as prepared as you thought. Either way, it’s important not to let the ego’s will to win get in the way. You have to know when to walk away and reconvene at a better time. The best approach in this situation is to say something like:

“I must have said something to upset you, and I didn’t mean to. Let’s take time to cool off and then come back together again”

“I didn’t know that fact; let me take some time to consider it and come back to you tomorrow.”

If you associate different parts of the body with the different influence styles, you will be empowered with what you need to influence people in almost every situation.  As you work to prepare for your next tough conversation, remember these six strategies to position for a win:win outcome!

If you found these tips to be helpful, I’d love for you to join me at my upcoming workshop 9 Leadership Power Tools to Advance Your Career