What is not addressed will continue.
I have heard many leaders at different leadership levels in different organizations complain. Behind closed doors, leaders who are dissatisfied with the performance of their team spend a lot of time complaining and gossiping about people in the organization. The problem is that these types of leaders spend more time complaining about the problem than searching for a solution. They return to their workplace hoping that something may be different, but change is not magical; change is the result of deliberately identifying a problem and addressing it with a solution-oriented mindset and an action plan. Problems that are not addressed will continue.
People do not change things they do not see as a problem.
Leaders are often in their position because they are visionaries. They are big picture people. It may even be hard for them to accept that many on their team do not have that vision. Team members may not see the ripple affect of their behavior and performance on the rest of the team, the rest of the organization, or the people that the organization serves. As a result, leaders have the responsibility to address problems that they identify because the employees who are committing the offenses may not be aware that their behavior or performance is not acceptable. An employee who is a drain to the company culture probably does not believe that about themselves. A person will not work to fix something that they have never seen as broken. It is the leader’s responsibility to call attention to the behaviors that do not meet their standards of practice.
Why do we avoid critical conversations?
There are many reasons why leaders avoid critical conversations. Some leaders like to avoid conflict. They may desire to preserve the false sense of calm and collegiality that is in their team. This is fallible thinking because unchecked team member behaviors erode positive company culture. Other leaders are fearful of losing team members. They believe that everyone they confront will resign and they will be stuck trying to fill vacant positions. This is fallible thinking because a leader should not want that kind of person on the team anyway. Lastly, some leaders just want to be liked. They are fearful that they will lose the favor of their team if they must chastise or reprimand. This is fallible thinking because most team members desire to be properly led. When a performing team member observes another team member’s poor behavior go unchecked, it is demotivating and perpetuates doubt in the leader’s ability to lead.
How do you have a critical conversation?
A critical conversation does not have to be confrontational, but it should be direct. These conversations should be held face-to-face, if possible. A colleague once told me, if an email draft reaches a third paragraph, it means a conversation should be had instead. Critical conversations should not be conducted via email. Also, these conversations should be planned and scheduled in advance. This ensures that interruptions and distractions are limited, and the other party recognizes the seriousness of the conversation to be had.
In traditional feedback sessions, we are often encouraged to temper constructive feedback with positive feedback. This is not necessarily the case in critical conversations. You do not want your message to be lost or watered down by positive praise that may be irrelevant to the subject at hand. You must be direct without being severe, but you cannot waver in your expression of your standards and expectations.
During critical conversations, it is important to reference previously conveyed rules, policies, procedures, and expectations if possible. Feelings and emotions can be argued, standards of practice cannot. In instances when the unacceptable behavior is more subjective, such as negative attitudes, try to identify specific behaviors that reflect the negative attitude and refer to concrete examples of how the unacceptable behavior impacts others or the organization.
What is the result of the critical conversation?
The ideal result of a critical conversation is changed behavior. In a perfect scenario, the other party realizes the gravity of their behavior and immediately works to correct it. Alternatively, the other party may not agree about the views of their behavior or performance, but they recognize that their leader does not approve so they will conform. Conversely, a person may rebel, lash out, or leave. As a leader, you must be okay with someone’s disgruntled exit. What that means is that they are not responsive to leadership, do not demonstrate a growth mindset, and cannot conform to the norms and standards set by your organization. Ultimately, that person is not an asset to your team, no matter how talented they may be.
If you would like coaching in critical conversations, I would be happy to help! Contact me today to schedule a free consultation!
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