Course Correcting Conversations

Posted by Mimi Meredith at Friday, January 6th, 2012 11:35 am

It's Family Friday. Today, I'm thinking about an important communication skill for creating positive culture at work and at home. In both places, it's not our ability to outline a vision or articulate expected behaviors that counts as much of our skill in keeping everyone motivated and on track to fulfill that mission.

How do you have those difficult conversations? How do you guide without micromanagement? How do you get rid of the bathwater and keep the baby safe? (Sorry, but that metaphor always generates images of wet, airborne infants that are somewhat disturbing!) I've talked before about the dangers of over correction, but what happens when corrective measures have to be taken?

Here are some simple strategies. See what you think.

First, identify and consistently communicate the criteria for behavior. It pains me to overhear parents walking into a big event with a child saying, "remember what we talked about..." or a supervisor to an employee saying, "I know you won't let me down on this, Jane," as he or she receives a huge assignment.

People will respond under the most challenging circumstances if you've used every little circumstance along the way to reinforce what good behavior looks and feels like. Please know, there needs to be reasonable balance here...gushing over every routine employee action or Billy getting kudos for using his inside voice in the supermarket (duh, he's inside...should that be worthy of a reward at the checkout?) is not what I'm talking about.

Consistently demonstrating (um...that means the doin' of what you're sayin') and regularly reminding everyone of the benefits of staying the course is exactly what I'm talking about.

Second, weave feedback into daily interaction and make sure it's two-way communication. (That means you work to insure the other perspective is heard and honored!)

When you wait for an annual review to correct course...or after dinner out with the grandparents...there's already too much learned behavior that's part of the water under the bridge. (I'm having loads of fun mixing and mingling metaphors today.)

When you make feedback part of daily conversations, you are more open to the adaptation that comes from what you hear, and your employees or children (and sometimes I know it feels like they're both) have a chance to learn from regular guidance rather than the pressure of responding to a reprimand to avoid a negative consequence.

And please remember. Listen. Listen. Listen. It might not be that they've driven off course--you might be misleading.

Finally, build on what works.

It's much easier to hear a conversation like this...

"Jane, remember how you handled the follow up on the Smith account last month? That was awesome. You were clear, concise and you got it wrapped up by the deadline. How do you think some of those skills will help you resolve the conflict with the Jones account?"

Just like children, we all want to be caught being good. We don't want to hear the but sentences.

"I think you're a great employee, but there are some things you need to work on."

You know as well as I do that no human remembers anything that comes before that ominous conjunction.

Just as in crisis communication, in daily communication, it's much easier for people to identify what they can do and what they already have achieved that can be replicated, rather than figuring out how to dig up the skills to rebuild from the rubble left behind in most evaluations.

Before you have a conversation, use all your mental powers to imagine yourself in the other person's place? What are you affirming in them? What skills and tools are you reinforcing that can help them improve?

Correcting conversations are a bit like pruning perennial plants. You can't wait too long to do the pruning or the plant will grow beyond restoration. And, you have to be careful not to cut so often, or so deep that you've left nothing from which goodness can grow.

  • http://twitter.com/JMattHicks JMattHicks

    “It pains me to overhear parents walking into a big event with a child saying, “remember what we talked about…” or a supervisor to an employee saying, “I know you won’t let me down on this, Jane,” as he or she receives a huge assignment.”

    Truth. I remember, whether it my was church, my Big Momma’s house, or “up at that schoolhouse” as my dad used to say, that if I didn’t live up to a certain expectation I could expect to get a get a behind whipping. I know many parents are vehemently against such discipline, I for one, do. It worked. I loved and respected by dad, who was and still is a teddy bear, but I also knew that if I got out of line there would be consequences.

    So yeah, there was never any “remember what we talked about,” there was just, at the moment I may have decided to act up, that glare in my dad’s eye and me knowing exactly what the meant.

    I caught on pretty quick!

    • http://www.mimimeredith.com/ MimiMeredith

      @JMattHicks Jeremy, thanks for checking in! I thought I replied to you yesterday, but I may have been having some server issues. First of all, thanks for your tremendous support through Livefyre Tech support. It’s always such a pleasure working with you. Second–you struck a theme here that is really important to every relationship–clearly communicated objectives! I hope you have a great day. Thanks for stopping by.

  • http://www.thejackb.com/ TheJackB

    I will always remember my first job and how they tried to help me by telling me that I was stupid because I didn’t understand what they were trying to say to me. Good times.

    • http://www.mimimeredith.com/ MimiMeredith

      @TheJackB Ah, yes. Just the type of feedback that provided clear direction and affirmation that you had the power to improve. I think we each have managers like that so we know how not to be behave!

  • http://billdorman.me/ bdorman264

    The pruning analogy was very appropriate; you want to do just enough, but certainly not too often.

    Two key points you mentioned were listening and putting yourself in their shoes; how would you take it if it was being said to you?

    Communication and listening helps you to be better at these skills as well.

    Good information indeed; thanks for sharing this.

    • http://www.mimimeredith.com/ MimiMeredith

      @bdorman264 Thanks, Bill. My comment notifications aren’t working so I was off in my own little world thinking nobody read this post. (Part of the “chopped liver” phenomena ;-)!) And of course, here you and my other good blogging friends were. I’ll get that fixed pronto.

  • http://www.salienceconsulting.com salienceconsulting

    Fantastic writing, Mimi! Especially the “weaving” part. Conversations are part of an on-going relationship not a one-time event that is used to make a point. I very much like where you are headed with your blog.

    • http://www.mimimeredith.com/ MimiMeredith

      @ salienceconsulting Thanks, Tom! Having witnessed the entire evolution of “what in the world is Mimi Meredith,” I’m glad that you noticed the shift. Here’s to being what we are meant to be in the world and the relationships that sustain us along the way!

  • RiverwoodWriter

    On Parenting: Your advice echoes much of the advice in my favorite parenting book: “How to Talk so Kids will Listen and How to Listen so Kids will Talk.” (http://amzn.to/Al4j2G).

    On course correction with spouse: During a challenging time in our marriage (at about the 18year mark of what is now in the 40th year), I read a book about co-dependency that made me realize that I was expecting my husband to read my mind. After all, he should KNOW how something would make me feel after 18 years, right? Wrong, of course…if he said something that felt hurtful, instead of getting angry or hurt and defensive, I started saying something like, “What you just said hurt me, because it made me feel [fill in the blank].” Lo and behold, in almost every case, he said, “Oh, I’m so sorry, that’s not what I meant at all! What I meant was…]. If I hadn’t learned how to create the space for a “course correction,” the conversation would have continued in a downward spiral until someone got angry or left the room.

    So much good stuff her, Mimi…keep it coming!

    • http://www.mimimeredith.com/ MimiMeredith

      @RiverwoodWriter Elizabeth, my wonderful spousal unit and I have had exactly the same ah-ha moments. At one point, Greg even said, “I can’t hear what you’re thinking I can only hear what you say.”

      I have heard great things about that parenting book, but I haven’t read it. I think listening to understand is the one habit that could change the world. I know…it’s a tall order, but I do believe it’s true.