Listen: If you hear any of these 3 things you/we have a problem

Leading people is hard.  It is even harder when leaders are in a mode of talking more than they listen.  When you lead knowledge workers, remember that when you are doing most of the talking their brain is focused on processing what you tell them and reacting to it versus using their own brain to think what they want to do and what questions they need to have answered.

I always promote more conversations – which means two people in direct contact with each other sharing the burden of talking and listening.

As I coach leaders and teams through the transition of having more purposeful conversations, here are things I hear that alert me that someone is not being honest or they are stuck in a place that will keep great conversations for ever happening unless they make a choice to move forward.

  1. It is someone else’s fault: It might be, and if we are talking about what help you need to get to a different level of performance, identify a target job for yourself, or maybe to find more joy/commitment in your work . . . . does it really matter whose fault it is?  If this becomes the primary focus there is a problem.  If accountability is the ultimate goal, then making fixing the problem the priority will make it easier to have the conversation of – What can we do to make sure this never happens again?
  2. I cannot do ANYTHING until you do your job: Really? I used to do a junior achievement activity around production. Each person had a job to do in assembling an item, and there was always one person who could not work fast enough.  Sometimes, people just stood and watched the person struggle.  In other groups, the people around this individual helped out so that the bottleneck went away.  If you choose to watch or chose to say no to any offers of help, then you are really the problem.
  3. I am too busy to have this conversation: Okay, if you are too busy now when would be a good time? This is a flag for me that something else is going on. Imagine not wanting to have a discussion about what we can do to make your job better, to improve the support I provide you as your leader, or to make career plans for you?  Too busy? Hmmm . . . .

It is messy to start the habit of more conversations with your people.  If you are a leader that has not made a habit of slowing down to listen to what your people need, it will be a hard change.  If people are used to you telling them what to do and not listening to their ideas, or not always explaining your decisions, then it will be hard for them to make the shift to owning things that are hard – like offering their own ideas and fixing their own mistakes.

If you work for someone trying to make a shift in their leadership style and you give one of these responses, then you are effectively saying “I do not support the change you are trying to make and I would like to work towards you staying the same”.  Really?

If you are a leader trying to improve the conversations you have with your people, here are some templates that might help you get started.