Golden opportunities can look pretty dingy at times

On a week-to-week basis I limit my one-on-one coaching to Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday mornings. Personal coaching is intensive, and I’ve found that this time frame works best for me so I’m not spread too thin in the focus I need to give to my clients.

As they usually do, the past three days offered up some very interesting scenarios. There was one in particular that we can all learn from:

How do you handle it when one of your employees voluntarily offers up a difficult solution?

In the case of the manager I was coaching, an employee offered this near the end of a counseling conversation the manager had initiated because disciplinary action (a written warning in the employee’s file) regrettably had to be taken:

“In all honesty, maybe I don’t belong here.”

Turns out the employee is spot on: he is in the wrong job, and it continues to be a source of frustration for him, for his peers, for his manager, and for the company. The manager has dealt with him as patiently as possible, and is actively counseling him while silently hoping that the employee will find a better job somewhere else. However he hasn’t been able to verbally make that suggestion, and here, when the employee finally does it himself, what happens? He says,

“Oh come now, don’t be too hard on yourself. You can do better.”

He missed his golden opportunity, and now he’s kicking himself for it, asking me what the best way is to recreate the moment so he can grab it next time.

I feel for him, for this is one of those situations of learning the hard way: Most of us who have managed for a while can relate to what happened. It’s a wonderful part of our human nature that we try to make the other person feel better when they are down on themselves: We try to lift their spirits, and point out the more positive options, looking for those lights at the end of the tunnel no matter how dimly they may be flickering. We do this instinctively, even when we know that a change must be made, and made soon.

What I’ve personally learned that may help you is this: slow down. Learn to get more comfortable with the momentary silences that happen in difficult conversations. Let the suggestion hang in the air for a moment and don’t respond too soon.

One of two things will happen. Either the employee will speak first, offering up more information for you to better respond to, or you will have had the time to think before you speak. And often, the best thing to say next very well may be, “I think you’re right.” However that moment of silence will have conveyed to the employee that you know it’s a difficult decision, and you’ve taken the time to think about it and about their feelings.


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