Stop it and Sort it – Difficult Conversations

I was recently coaching a leader who is currently having a challenge with the behaviours demonstrated by a specific member of his team and together we tried to answer the question “what is the best way to facilitate change in a person’s behaviour, when the demonstrated behaviour has been present for a long time and previously been accepted?”

This is a challenge that will face us all at some point and no matter how experienced we are, it is still a delicate and challenging scenario. This situation can appear for a number of reasons: a previous manager neglecting to confront the issue, a change in company approach or another factor.

The bottom line is that at some point we will all have to feedback to somebody in our team, that the behaviour that has been perfectly acceptable in the past is no-longer desired.

We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.

Bill Gates

How do we ensure that this issue is handled appropriately and also gets the desired result? If the change required is something that has been accepted previously, then this will probably result in an emotive, emotionally charged and counter-productive reaction… Yet the message has to be strong enough and supportive enough to ensure the receiver understands why change is required and is motivated to do so.

Go in with a sledge-hammer and you could end up with a fight on your hands and potentially lose this individual as a follower (just because some behaviours need to change, does not mean they are not highly capable and skilled individuals).

Go in with a soft approach and the individual could miss the message entirely or not believe that it is important to adapt.

I have learnt… most of the time the hard way… four approaches that have helped me dramatically in these situations.

Courage to act

This is common sense advice – however sometimes common sense isn’t common practice. The biggest single regret I have when I have messed things up, is that I wish I had acted sooner. The longer you procrastinate, the more the behaviour is deemed acceptable and the bigger the issue will seem when you finally do take action.

Once you have witnessed the behaviour, make the decision to challenge and discuss quickly. This doesn’t mean reacting in the moment without being prepared – it means you make the decision to have the conversation quickly, prepare appropriately and have the conversation in the shortest timeframe possible.

Procrastination for me was often a product of fear – in this case fear of the individuals reaction or confrontation. If you feel this fear pulling you ask, “How much angrier and difficult will this individual be if they find out I didn’t have this conversation with them when I should have?”

Acknowledge the issue has not been challenged before

As a leader it is important you take accountability for any past failings – even if they had nothing to do with you! Taking accountability and acknowledging this hasn’t been appropriately dealt with, will remove any emotive feelings and blame from the individual concerned. Allowing them to effectively “let go” of any past failings and look towards alternatives in the future.

The only person this will effect is you… Your ability to take accountability for something that was not your fault, might pull on your ego. Don’t let it… don’t play the blame game… it doesn’t help any part of the situation, in fact it just makes the situation worse. The blame game is lacks authenticity, impact and integrity… I know, I have tried it!


The past is the past

I have also found it really powerful to let everyone concerned know that we can do nothing about the past, so we are not going to even try! Whatever the behaviour was doesn’t make them a bad employee, an evil person or someone who won’t be getting a promotion anytime soon… If you leave the individual feeling like there is no way back, then they probably won’t bother trying. Make the actions and attitudes they show now the focus… The world of opportunity is open, the future is exciting and all that matters is what happens going forward.

Allowing the person to feel and know that there are no grudges and that the past is forgotten, will give them time, space and enthusiasm to make the difference.

The future is bright…

It is good to, within the conversation, build motivation and excitement with how amazing the world will be.. how the team will work better, how the results will accelerate, how much more fun will be had, how great your relationships will be… in simple terms, focus on the future.

With a future focused approach, together you can generate a sense of WHY it is important to change, HOW that change will look and be achieved and WHAT the benefits will be for all concerned.

Done correctly can motivate people to make dramatic changes in short time periods and they will tell you it was their idea… that is what I call a WIN-WIN situation!

Hopefully this advice we come in useful for you one day… I know I will have to read it again at some point…

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