re ·dux (rÄ“-dÅks’) ~ adj.
Brought back; returned. Used post-positively
Here’s a new update of a posting which has served us exceptionally well over the years, earning its rightful place in our Talking Story toolbox.
Learn to Finish Conversations Well
We managers can get ourselves into far too many situations where we unwittingly set others up for disappointment and sabotage our own reputation.
We’ll talk about a specific cause in this posting: Conversations which have not received our full attention.
The good news, is that fixing this attention-deficit is pretty easy. Our awareness of how it happens solves more than half the battle.
The Land of Fuzzy Expectations is riddled with landmines
Here is how it normally occurs: We will tell one of our employees or peers that we’ll look into something, and we’ll even thank them sincerely for bringing issues to our attention, but then we end our conversation in an open-ended way which places us squarely in the Land of Fuzzy Expectations.
The Land of Fuzzy Expectations is a war zone of landmines just waiting for us to trigger their explosions. We step into this war zone when we end a conversation saying something like, “Okay, I understand. Thank you for letting me know; I’ll look into it.”
That statement is a potential landmine.
When you say, “I’ll look into it,” the person you’ve said it to will immediately refer to their last experience of your follow up with them. If that follow up has been hit or miss, they will walk away from you thinking, “Yeah right, I’ve heard that before. Why did I even bother talking to him?”
Perhaps you do take action pretty reliably, but how? Do you rely solely on your viewpoint, or existing expertise, or do you look for better answers? And what did that person expect would happen, exactly? Was it the same thing, or something else?
So how can you better defuse those landmines? Don’t seed them in the first place as poorly finished conversations.
That answer is fairly simple and straight-forward, however most of us have to develop the logic of it into a good habit which serves us well.
Workplace assumptions are created in rapid-fire fashion
Unfortunately, they aren’t necessarily charitable assumptions, where we also assume the very best from people. We prefer to leave each other with clear expectations, and more helpful agreements.
Think about the last conversation you had with someone before reading this: Did you both walk away from each other with a clear understanding of who will do what about whatever you’ve just talked about — and when? Was there any chance that you just accepted a hand-off of the baton without even realizing you did?
Worse, had you already forgotten about it because of its “in passing” nature of workplace pressures?
When you’re a manager, most employees will assume you did accept their baton no matter how it was handed off, because a huge workplace assumption held pretty universally is that the buck stops with the manager — for everything you know about and even what you don’t! Employees normally assume it is your job to find out, more than it is their responsibility to tell you! If they did tell you, well, that’s above and beyond the call of duty for them. They feel they’re busy in their workplace foxholes while you’re out scouting” isn’t that what you do? Yeah, right.
Safe sentences are not the answer either
Too often, managers use “safe” sentences so they don’t make promises they can’t keep. They’ll say things like, “thank you for letting me know,” or “that’s interesting, I wasn’t aware of that,” or “yes, I see what you mean” clueless to the possibility that they’ve given the other person the impression they now own the information necessary and will do something about it. But what? And do they own the issue, or do they think they’ve skirted it?
Skirting issues and playing it safe is for wimps. Great managers rise above those tactics because they seek to get stuff done. However, that doesn’t mean that they own everything they’ve been told either. They’re clear. They’re clear on what they will do, and what they will not do, and why.
You can’t fix everything, and you know that you can’t, but you also cannot assume that the person you’re talking to understands that too. As a conversation ends, if you aren’t clear on what you’ll do with your new tidbit of information, you could be giving an employee the impression you will fix it (whatever “it” is), especially when they’re assuming it is in your power to do so. After all, you are the manager, and isn’t that what managers do?
Maybe so, however great managers coach and mentor: They do work with their staff, they don’t necessarily do work for them. They work with employees to bring their strengths and talents to full employment, and they try to eliminate all the “I can’t” thinking and other obstacles which stand in the way of engaging performance and optimal productivity. They get employees to be part of solutions as much as possible, coaching their staff to participate in decision-making. Great managers facilitate way more than they expedite. They understand that the quickest way now is not always the fastest way for keeps, nor is it always the best way.
No more vague.
Say what you will do. Be more specific about the action you will take, and make the present conversation more comprehensive and useful. How will you take care of it? Talk about precise actions.
If an employee walks away from your conversation hearing something as vague as “I understand, I’ll give that some thought” you must understand that they are waiting for you to take action. The longer it takes for that action to happen ”“ or heaven help you, you forget about it, or hope the issue goes away on it’s own eventual resolution ”“ the more damaging the hit to your credibility and reputation as a manager who cares and effectively gets things done. The less you get things done, the less employees will talk you, thinking to themselves, “What’s the use?”
Finishing your conversations well is pretty simple; it means the follow up actions you will take aren’t vague; they’re clear, and they’re trustworthy.
When your agreements are trustworthy, so are you.
Finish your conversations well. All of them.
How? By coming to clear agreements on what your next actions are. In the best possible scenario, “your” means both of the people in the conversation.
Seek partnerships, and reach for collaboration in every conversation you have with these 5 steps. Now, you may be thinking, “5 steps for every conversation? How will I remember this?” however when you read through them you will see how straight-forward they are, and easy to practice. Create a habit that will soon stick with you naturally.
1— Clearly state what you plan on doing next with the information you’ve just been given, and if you expect or wish to have your partner participate and remain involved in some way. [In the Daily Five Minutes conversation, ‘next’ means as singular and specific as possible.] State what your next action will be, and don’t hesitate to ask for the next action they’ll take if they need your help suggesting one. Divide and conquer, thereby creating collaboration between you, and getting more done.
2 — ‘Asking’ is more than asking if they agree. Do they have a better idea? As the person who brought the agenda to the conversation in the first place, they often will; ask for more of their thoughts about it. If there’s a problem to be solved, they’re probably closer to the solution than you are.
Problem-solving needn’t be that complicated:
- Figure out what’s wrong
- Decide what you’re going to do about it
- Take action, but specifically, take action to effect change.
What I’m proposing to you in this step, is that you both work on this together: No dumping. Collaborate to help each other out.3 — Last, set a specific time when you’ll have a follow up conversation to update each other. This is a great way to set a date for another Daily Five Minutes, but not necessarily, for remember that D5M is only one type of conversation; you’ll know when certain issues are better resolved in another forum.
4 — Before that date arrives, take the action you agreed to take. This should be easier since you already know what it will be, and have made an agreement connected to a specific action. Give your partner in the agreement a short and sweet update on what you’ve done; just a quick FYI, especially if they haven’t taken their agreed-upon action yet, and you want to encourage them to do so. This is sharing your Aloha, not nagging. Set people up for success: Do not be the war criminal hiding more land mines for other people!
5 — When you have your follow up conversation, speak of another helpful agreement at the same time: Work on the next step in the process until the issue has been completely taken care of.
This is how partnerships happen one conversation at a time, and in a very manageable way.
You’ll walk away with a new partnership, and you’ll be yet another step closer to being a great manager —and a great Aloha Workplace Coach!