Nerd, Geek, and Gear Herding: Technical Management Techniques for Managers v2.0

Submitted on Mon, 1/9/2012 - 10:58am
Having uncomfortable discussions with employees or other team members makes most of us a bit nervous – even uncomfortable sometimes. Why is that and what can we do?

Often as managers, we need to have serious discussions with employees or other team members. It makes most of us a bit nervous, even uncomfortable sometimes. Let's explore why we feel that way and look into how to affect our desired impact.

What is the end goal of your conversation?

How many times have you walked away from a serious conversation thinking about what was said but not piecing together what exactly it meant? Do you want the people you're talking with to walk away with that feeling? Of course not, but it happens all the time. So:

  • Write down a one sentence "take away" that you want the other party to see as the goal of your conversation.
  • Refine your goal sentence until it is crystal clear, simple to understand, and has the desired impact. If you can't make it work on paper, you might consider starting over or canceling the conversation until you can. If you're stumped now, it will be even harder in real time.
  • Plan on using the sentence at least 3 times in your conversation, including making it the last thing you say in summary. People absorb information best when it is presented multiple times.

Don't let your emotions control your actions!

Discomfort, fear, anxiety, and anger are all emotional reactions from your brain. They are not logical and generally have nothing to do with the situation you're facing. Letting your emotions guide your conversation will not help you achieve your goals and convey your message.

  • Be aware of your emotional state. Label your emotions as such and own them. You feel "angry" because of you, not because someone "made you angry". You have the ultimate control over how you act in response to others.
  • If you feel the conversation becoming emotionally guided on either side, take a break. Its okay to say that you feel the conversation would be better continued after both parties have a chance to regroup and digest.
  • Acknowledge others' obvious emotional reactions and let them experience them and work through them. Affording your team member 30 seconds of silence to let them emotionally regroup is often all that is needed. People have a natural desire to comfort others when we see emotional distress. Many times this makes matters worse or dilutes the message you are trying to convey.

Sandwiches are only for lunch, not discussions

As nice people, we often seek to "soften the blow" of any disappointing news or feedback by embedding the distasteful "meat" of the conversation between a couple "slices" of really pleasant feedback. It's a mixed message to your audience and unlikely to have the impact you desire. To put it differently: that nice bread doesn't make distasteful meat taste better, it's just more to chew.

  • Focus the conversation only on the goal. If it's a serious issue and this is the first time you are discussing it, don't talk about anything else.
  • Label your desire to "soften the blow" as your emotion and own it. If you are getting your point across effectively, your audience's emotions and feelings will be what they will be no matter how you package your message.

Consider this an official "teaser" on a topic we'll cover in detail during my session at the 2012 Nonprofit Technology Conference, "Technical Management Techniques for Managers": Having Candid and Uncomfortable Discussions. During the live session, we'll continue to talk about real-life situations and how to handle them. I look forward to seeing you in a few months.

Grant Howe brings more than 16 years of experience to his role as VP of research & development for Sage North America's Nonprofit Solutions business, based in Austin, Texas. Sage currently helps more than 32,000 unique not-for-profit organizations in the U.S. and Canada increase efficiency and more easily manage their operations through the use of technology. Howe has presented at NTEN's Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC) since 2009. He earned a master's degree in Software Engineering from Syracuse University in Syracuse, N.Y., and a bachelor's degree in Computer Science from the State University of New York (SUNY) College at Oswego. You can follow him on Twitter @geekbyte.