Top 7 Tips for a Difficult Quarterly Conversation
The worst thing about management is having a difficult conversation with a direct report. The second worst thing is preparing for that conversation. In the Entrepreneurial Operating System®, you have the potential for at least one difficult conversation every 90 days.
While the Quarterly Conversation™ is designed to prevent those meltdown scenarios, that doesn’t mean every Quarterly Conversation will be a bed of roses. But even your toughest conversations can be healthy ones.
We won’t get into the dos and don’ts of a Quarterly Conversation—there are plenty of articles on the EOS Worldwide website for that. But here are seven tips to help you nail that tough conversation you’re dreading.
Ninety-nine percent of the time, you should know beforehand if your Quarterly Conversation is going to be a difficult one. There’s no reason for going into the conversation ill-prepared.
Preparation doesn’t mean:
- Compiling a mountain of evidence against your employee.
- Constructing arguments to counter your employee’s excuses or accusations.
- Brooding on your negative emotions.
Preparation does mean:
- Knowing your desired outcomes.
- Doing your homework to understand the situation.
- Anticipating where the meeting can go poorly and determining your response.
- Understanding your own emotions and identifying a healthy way to handle them in the moment.
- Planning a structure to the conversation that will help defuse emotions.
- Rehearsing your words.
This can be the hardest thing to do. When a tough conversation gets heated, your immediate reaction is to go into self-defense mode. That’s the last thing to do. Instead of closing down, open up more. Open your ears, open your eyes, open your mind. Don’t just hear your direct report—listen to them.
The best managers get attentive when a conversation isn’t going well. Your best shot at improving the situation comes by understanding the situation. That includes understanding the other person’s perspective—truly “getting it”—even if they’re wrong.
Emotional conversations are always worse when all you have is vague statements to make your point. Without specific examples that clearly back up your statements, it’s just your opinion against the other person’s. And that’s not a fun place for either of you to be in.
But specifics are objective. They reduce the emotional aspect, because it’s just bare facts. If you can point to specific instances where a mistake was made, or a Core Value wasn’t followed, you’ll start to get them nodding with you. Now you’ve got common ground to move forward!
Fix the Problem, Not the Person
If things get heated, you could find yourself making accusatory statements, like, “You never give anyone the benefit of the doubt” or, “You don’t consider how your actions affect other people.”
The problem with accusations like these is that you don’t have access to a person’s mind or heart. You don’t know what anyone is thinking or feeling, and you can’t know their motives, unless they tell you. You can guess (and you might be right), but you don’t have the objective position to accuse anyone.
But you can say that their actions appear to come from a certain motive or mindset. “It feels like…” is 100 percent valid, because now you’re sharing your experience of their actions. And your direct report can’t argue against that.
Besides that, accusatory statements center on the individual. Instead, focus on the issue. You can’t fix people, but you can fix problems!
If you’ve done your homework, there’s no room for debate. Expectations have either been met, or they haven’t. Acknowledge your direct report’s perspective, but don’t open the door for argument.
Instead, focus on moving forward, getting on the same page and finding a solution everyone can agree with.
Help First, in All Things
Above all, remember that your job as a manager is to help your people succeed. That doesn’t change when you have to have a difficult Quarterly Conversation. Approach the meeting with the intention of helping your direct report, and doing whatever is in their (and your team’s) best interests.
If you make it clear and obvious that you are for your people, even the most difficult conversations can be healthy and positive ones.