Conversation “is a pain”

Had a really good conversation with a manager today. I say “really good” because he was up front, to the point, truthful and honest, and didn’t let my being ‘the managing with aloha coach’ get in the way even though we’d just met; no warm up was needed. He wanted help, and his sincerity made me want to give it to him in spades if I could. [He’s generously given me his permission to post this, knowing he’s not alone in feeling this way.]

If you were as completely transparent as he was, would any of this sound familiar to you? I’m paraphrasing, going from memory, but this is the gist of what he initially said, and the first part of our talk story about it:

Rosa, I’ve read your book and your blog, and I know you’re big on conversation, talking story, and your Daily Five Minutes, and I agree with it all in theory, I really do, but damn, it’s still so hard for me to initiate those conversations. When I do manage it, I’m so relieved that it’s over, and I’m already dreading the next one.

Why do you dread it? Was it really so bad?

No, that’s not it. Sure, I can be a better manager, and improve on things, but I’ve basically got a good relationship with everyone on my team. Stuff comes up that’s both good and bad, and I think we handle it pretty well once we’re actually in the conversation. It’s the knowing that I should be doing it more than I do, and that I don’t. It’s a pain. I just want a team who will work hard, get the job done, and not have to talk about it. When they need to talk to me, they can, and they know that.

Are you completely confident about that? Will they always come to you, no matter what it’s about, and no matter when? And that work that’s involved with “getting the job done:” if it starts to go sideways or something goes wrong, are you the first person they’d tell if you didn’t know, or didn’t see it coming?

Well, not always, so yeah, that’s what I mean. That’s why I know I should do your Daily Five Minutes, and have more group talk story times, but I’ve got so many other things to do. And why does it have to be me? Aren’t they supposed to act like adults, do the right thing, and not expect me to create these practices to hold their hand?

Short answer? ‘Cause that’s just not the way it works. You’ve got to learn to enjoy those conversations and start to look forward to them, because you can’t avoid them and still be a good manager. And just the fact that we’re having this conversation at all tells me that being a good manager is what you want.

You know me better, and I did give him a longer answer. I asked him a bunch more questions too, so we could drill down to some coaching which would be of best help in his situation. He told me more about the personality of his team, and in doing so it slowly dawned on him that they probably wanted to speak up more, or would if they felt the time was right. We also talked about some specifics in his work which may actually go away, and get done by his crew for him, exactly because he IS beginning to reap the power of the Daily Five Minutes.

If you had the ability to step outside your body, and actually watch your workday, I’d bet that this is what you’d discover: You need each other. You get way more work done as a result of conversations than you do when you have the so-called ‘luxury’ of not having them, and work nose to the grindstone in solitary silence — and this is doubly true when you’re a manager. You expedite work, and can often finish your part of it within that conversation. The people around you and involved in work with you, are the defining variables which most need your attention if great work is to be achieved by either of you.

When you’re an Alaka‘i manager, conversation is your worthwhile work.


I’m not going to gloss over it: Yes, sometimes conversation is a royal pain in the neck for managers. Even the greatest managers on earth find themselves in really tough conversations at times, for it comes with the territory. But when they end up in a good place in dealing with that situation, well, management doesn’t get any sweeter, and more rewarding than that.

Bottom line is this: The more conversations you have at work with your team, the easier they all get, but you have to go through those uncomfortable and inconvenient starts. The pleasant ones get better than pleasant and become insightful, and the ugly ones become crucibles for the change you probably both need to have happen. Work doesn’t just “get done” because BOTH of you aren’t settling for that kind of mediocrity: Work EVOLVES.

And the Daily Five Minutes? Does it really have to happen that often? I say yes. We’ll talk about that in another post, soon. For now, remember this:

  • The “daily” is for you, and not with the same person – unless you decide you need a soon-as-possible repeat.
  • All conversation, and all group meetings and talk story opportunities become less of “a pain” the more often you do them. You get better at them, and so do they, no matter the topic. You get better together, tag teaming your conversations, because you are building a language of intention with each other. As a fringe benefit, those conversations actually get shorter.

About this:

And why does it have to be me? Aren’t they supposed to act like adults, do the right thing, and not expect me to create these practices to hold their hand?

Part of my answer is that I feel they’re supposed to act like exceptional adults too, and I don’t want any manager to lessen their high expectations. As the saying goes, a rising tide lifts all boats. However, when you start a newly conversational management style (or heck, whenever you start to supervise and manage any team, and with skills beyond conversation), you have to take the high road and go first. You’re the manager, and you have to set a good example, especially with kākou communications. If nothing else, you have to create your opportunities to listen to them.

But I promise you, if you keep it up, they’ll start going first because you’ve made it to that sweet spot. You’ve been giving them your attention, and believe me, they know it. They appreciate it, even though they don’t come right out and say so. Now, they want to give you the gift of their attention back.

They also want to talk about their ideas, ideas which are now germinating like crazy because you’ve provided such fertile soil and good growing conditions for them. You’re now having conversations you never imagined you’d have, and you can no longer remember the last time it was such “a pain.”

And isn’t that better than settling for, “We all act like adults, and my team has pretty good initiative.” I think so.

Let’s talk story: What can you add to this? If conversation has been “a pain” for you, what did you do to turn the corner, and make it better and less painful?

Here are two more practical suggestions from me (practices which can complement The Daily Five Minutes), but do answer the questions I’ve posed: I would love to hear from more of you.

  1. Be the Best Communicator
  2. Add Conversation to your Strong Week Plan
  3. And for extra credit :) Turn up the Volume and Manage Loudly