“Great organisations are built on great structures and systems. These are built on great relationships which are built on great conversations” (Ralph Stacey, organisational theorist and all-round good sort).

Ralph speaks something we all know. We all know our ability to converse well directly impacts the way in which we lead. We know, for the most part, that being proactive in addressing people issues is better than letting them brew. Yet, when there is tension bubbling away in a work relationship, we can often pretend it’s not there, avoid, even compensate. But like most things, you can get better with practice! If you find yourself wanting to develop capability in this area, then ‘nipping it in the bud’ is the way to go.  

When is this useful? This is the conversation you have when an issue is starting to bubble and threatens to turn into something bigger, when there is a change in behaviour or temperament in your employee or colleague.

There are three steps to this process: checking yourself, planning and having the conversation.

  1. It is very helpful to begin with checking your own emotions. Hope is not a method, and in this case winging it won’t get you far. What happens to you when you get triggered or caught by surprise? Do you fight, fly or freeze? Feeling threatened triggers stress hormones. Adrenaline gets released meaning you get ‘tunnel vision’ and have an emotional response rather than a rational response. We all feel threatened and can be triggered from time to time, so any conversation should always begin with a good self-check. Its always better to enter a situation knowing how you might respond, with a strategy in place for managing yourself.  
  2. Planning how you’ll open the conversation allows you to start strong. Think through how you will frame the conversation, make sure you’re clear on your facts and have planned your questions for the third step. Remember to show your appreciation for your colleague or employee, reaffirm the value they bring and clearly state that the conversation is about understanding what is going on for them. Be curious, this is a sure way to navigate your way through the ‘threat minefield’.
  3. The GROW conversation model is a great framework to use. In these cases, it’s helpful to start with the ‘R’.
  • Reality – Establish what is going on for the person. Their behaviour could have nothing to do with work. Your employee might have something going on in their personal life. Helpful questions to ask: I’m curious to know how things have been going for you recently? Help me understand your situation?
  • Goal – Establish where you would both like to head. Setting a direction sets an expectation that there’s a need to move forward. Helpful questions to ask: What would good look like in 12 months’ time? How can I help you? What can I do?
  • Obstacles – Brainstorm the different ways in which you can both thrive together. Explore what might stop future healthy interactions. Helpful questions to ask: If we could start all over again, how can we thrive? What other options are there for this? How do other organisations or people approach these situations?
  • Will – Brainstorm what will happen immediately from the meeting and there on out. Culture change will come if you stick to the plan. Helpful questions to ask: What actions will we take from here? Who is responsible for what? What can we do to stay accountable to our plan? What support do you need from me?

If you’re still unsure on whether having the conversation is worthwhile. Consider the following:

  • How will this positively impact our ability to achieve as an organisation?
  • How will this impact others if I don’t address this?

How have you approached these situations in your workplace? If you have thoughts or feedback, get in touch hello@thepeopleplace.co.nz