How to handle sensitive conversations

A senior executive recently asked me to help her handle a sensitive conversation.

One of her team, Kate*, co-ordinated the organisation’s bids for new projects.  As Kate approached deadlines, she felt overwhelmed and lost track of her tasks - tasks which her manager had to pick up at the last minute.  Feeling frustrated, Kate would often speak sharply to fellow team mates.

The manager wanted to know the best way to handle the situation.  She hated conflict, and avoided it whenever she could. 

This is common. When I coach executives in management communication skills, they often identify conversations they are avoiding. They want to know how best to tackle courageous conversations. 

I gave the manager a simple model I developed (called PASS), which we immediately applied to her conversation. 

The A of PASS stands for 'Ask', and includes 3 coaching questions:

  • What went well on this project?
  • What didn’t go so well?
  • What could you do differently next time?

A month later the manager was thrilled: “We’ve just submitted our best-ever bid!”, she enthused.  “I applied your model exactly – and it worked.  Kate raised all the issues I wanted to discuss – which meant I didn’t have to!  Then we agreed a simple strategy to help her manage her workload and her stress.

“Our director said it was like working with a different person.  She is calm, keeps track of her tasks and gets them done to deadline.  As a result, we’ve just submitted our best-ever bid!”

Seeing her joy and relief reminded me how much we gain by tackling sensitive conversations quickly.  And how much we lose by avoiding perceived 'conflict'.

Which courageous conversation might you need to have?  Why not tackle it today? 

It might just make the difference to your business. And to your enjoyment of work!



(*I have changed her name to maintain confidentiality.) 

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