Crucial Accountability QA

Asking for a Raise

Dear Crucial Skills,

How can I convince my manager to give me the promotion and pay raise I am owed?

This year I came back into mainstream office activity after resolving some personal problems. I got more and more responsibility over the course of the year and my supervisor reassured me he had no concerns about my performance and that he would see about getting me my promotion at year-end.

I recently approached him about the promotion and he said that I first needed to write up my strengths and weaknesses as well as long-term goals. He said he couldn’t support me getting my promotion until he had this in his hands. It seems like he’s adding steps after the fact. It was a big letdown from the expectations he set earlier in the year.

How can I convince him to see my point of view?

Signed,

Put Off

Dear Put Off,

I’ve got a few thoughts that I think could be helpful but I’d like to beg permission to take a few logical leaps here. I sincerely don’t want to be hurtful and yet since we’re not face to face I worry I will be. I trust that you were sincere in your request for advice, so I’ll venture forward hoping you’ll know my heart’s in the right place even if my brain isn’t. Okay?

Let me start with the most abrupt thought. Your very request is worded in a way that makes me wonder if your first challenge will be to change your motives. You asked, “How can I convince him . . . ?” If my goal in a conversation is to convince the other person, then I tend to come at it in ways that reveal my motive. My goal becomes to “be right” and “prove my point” or “win” with all the behaviors attendant to those motives. This is doomed from the outset and tends to cause the other person to resist rather than consider my views.

The goal of dialogue is not to “convince” but to “contribute to the pool of meaning.” You have some very clear and compelling concerns based on your experience that it is important for your boss to consider. And yet, he probably has some other views that you are unaware of. Your goal in the conversation must not be to get your raise; it must be to get a fair and reasonable outcome. Put differently, your goal must be to come to a common understanding of where you and your boss stand. If that is your motive, you will approach this as dialogue rather than monologue.

Second point. The root cause of most violated expectations is unclear expectations. We have conversations and leave drawing different conclusions. Or we remember it differently. Or things change and we assume others are revising their expectations accordingly–and they aren’t! Unfortunately, this advice will be useful in the future but not the present. It is this. If you do not have a written confirmation of your pay and promotion expectations with your boss, then you made a mistake. Never let a conversation about such a high stakes topic end without summarizing and even documenting your agreements. If you have this documentation, it becomes the starting point for the conversation you are trying to have now. If you don’t have it, you have no clear starting point.

Third, given your history (a problematic previous year or two, recently returned, increasing return of responsibilities over the year) and given your bosses response, I have a strong intuition that he is not leveling with you. He may well be putting you off because he has been less than candid about his view of your performance. If that is so, then once again, the purpose of your crucial conversation needs to be to solicit his views and concerns. You must make it safe for him to be totally honest with you about your performance. If you don’t, he may continue to feel a need to be political with you.

Finally, just fill out the darned form. If all he’s asking for is a simple sheet with your self assessment and goals–why quibble about it? You may be telling yourself a story that makes this out to be bigger than it is. The next step in my view is for you to change your story–let this be a small bureaucratic request in your mind not a big retreat from your expectations. Comply with it. And see if that doesn’t solve the problem!

I wish you the best and hope for an outcome that is positive for both of you.

Happy Holidays,

Joseph

Crucial Conversations QA

Violated Agreement

Dear Crucial Skills,

What do you do when someone violates an agreed upon decision-making process?

Four other supervisors and I recently made a process improvement decision. Two weeks later one of my peer supervisors called a meeting that I assumed was a chance to review progress on implementing these decisions. I sent one of my staff who was perfectly capable of reporting our progress. She returned and said this supervisor drove a whole new set of process decisions in the meeting. I called this supervisor to ask why she had done this and she said simply, “I forgot we had an agreement.” My concern is that she not only forgot, but she also drove a bunch of decisions that should have required the consent of the other supervisors. I apologized to my employee for “setting her up” like that.

How should I approach this supervisor? Should I involve my boss?

Signed,
Violated Expectations

Dear Violated Expectations,

Please allow me to shotgun a bit here. Your situation allows an opportunity to teach a few very important points about crucial conversations. I hope you’ll find some of the points I make relevant to your problem.

First and foremost, I worry that you might be telling yourself a story that is exacerbating the problem. In “Crucial Conversations,” we teach how the emotions we feel are created by us, not by what happens to us. A strict reading of your note suggests that this is the first time something like this has happened. If that is true, then you are at risk if you draw generalized conclusions about the untrustworthiness or insensitivity of your peer. If she said, “I forgot” and apologized, you may be the problem if you are harboring a grudge about it and drawing a deeper conclusion than that this was an innocent mistake. If this is not the first time this has happened, or you have accumulated other “data points” to suggest this supervisor is untrustworthy, then we can move on to the next potential pitfall.

The second thing you might need to remedy is the error of confronting the wrong problem. In “Crucial Confrontations” we teach that the first thing you have to do is be sure you confront the right problem. If things like this have happened before, then the conversation you should be having focuses on the pattern of violating agreements–not the most recent instance. If you confront only the most recent instance and the person explains it away, then you’ll walk away feeling obligated to accept the explanation without feeling satisfied with it. The reason? You confronted the “content” issue rather than the real “pattern” or “relationship” concern you harbor. Again, a strict reading of your note suggests that after your peer said, “I forgot” you let the issue drop. You allowed the conversation to turn from, “I thought our agreement was not to change process without all four supervisors present” to “Why did you change the process we had agreed to previously?” Can you see the difference? The first is a decision-making process conversation. The second is a content issue related to a decision you thought you made. There’s a difference. And when you accepted “I forgot,” you allowed the topic to change to the wrong problem.

Finally, I hear a lot of “expectations” in your question but not a lot of explicit agreements. For example, it sounds like you “expect” that all four supervisors will agree on process changes. You “expected” that the meeting you sent your rep to was about implementation status. If you did not make these expectations explicit and even document them, then you may have been part of the problem. It is absolutely essential in emotionally and politically risky situations to be crystal clear on how decisions will be made, who will do what by when, and how you’ll follow up. If you are not carefully specifying and appropriately documenting these key decisions, you leave room for your expectations to be violated and for you to tell yourself stories that villainize those who contribute along with you to violating them.

My advice at this point is (assuming this is a single instance concern):

1. Master Your Story – ensure you are seeing your role in creating this problem–that you are seeing it as a single instance problem and not a deep character flaw in your peer–and soften your emotions accordingly.

2. Have a crucial conversation about the decision-making process first with the specific peer, then with all four supervisors. And document the agreement in a brief e-mail!

Best wishes,

Joseph

Crucial Conversations QA

Increasing Safety after a Promotion

Dear Crucial Skills,

I’ve entered that magical world of senior management, but now I feel I know less than I did when I was a middle manager. I have to dig harder for the truth, and work harder to prove it is still “safe” to talk with me. Two months ago a lot was shared with me–now that isn’t the case, and even my staff members, who were once my peers, share less.

How do I demonstrate “it’s still me”?

Signed,
Outside Looking In

Dear OLI,

You’ve described a situation that lots of people have experienced–that is, when you have power, how can you help others honestly share what’s on their minds? This situation can arise when you move to senior management, when you are the person on your team with the most experience or the most technical knowledge, when you are the new manager, or when you are the parent. All of these require some insight and skill to help others feel “safe” talking with you.

Here are a few tips we’ve learned as we’ve studied people who are very effective at helping others feel safe.

1. Remember the past. The situation you’re facing might have been created by the other person’s past experiences–with you or with someone else. I recall just such an experience. We were doing interviews in an organization that was, to be delicate, struggling. People were tight-lipped, nervous, and cautious. Occasionally someone would share the example of a manager who yelled at employees–Murphy. Another would tell a story of how employees were belittled by a boss–Murphy. Still another got emotional about how some supervisor had limited an employee’s career–Murphy. Later that afternoon, we asked one of the new executives if we could interview Murphy. We couldn’t. Murphy had retired seven years earlier. But his ghost, his memory, still stalked the halls of this organization. Many of the new managers, newly promoted managers, and even old managers who had never mistreated an employee were treated like they were Murphy–or at least next of kin. Managers and supervisors had to deal with this history when they asked others for input.

Sometimes we are living with a past that we personally created. I remember a man sharing with a group as he was going through Crucial Conversations training, “I’ve got it. Finally. My kids are nervous around me. Why? For 99.9 percent of the time, I’m Dr. Jekyll, and only .01 percent do I lose my temper and become Mr. Hyde. But my children are always looking for Mr. Hyde.”

When you have to deal with situations clouded by the past, remember to give the other person the benefit of the doubt. Ask, “Why would a reasonable, rational, decent person act nervous or unsafe?” Are there situational or historical factors that are influencing him or her?

2. Share your intentions. We learned from dialogue masters to clarify issues by Contrasting. A Contrasting statement clarifies what you don’t intend and what you do intend. This helps the other person understand your good intentions and dispels worries about selfish or harmful motives. Often the “don’t” part is the most important. For example, when you’re beginning a talk with a person who is hesitant to share, say something like, “I’d like to talk about this topic candidly. I wonder if there has been some hesitancy on your part because I’m now in senior management. I don’t want to let my new position get in the way of important communication that needs to be shared. My intention is to be a good listener so that I can hear the issues that affect you and the job. What do you think?” It may take a time or two–or three. The main issue here is to deal with mutual purpose–what do both of you want?–rather that dealing first with the content of any particular issue.

3. Be consistent. If you want to get input from people who are hesitant or feel unsafe, you have to be consistent. After you share your intentions and try to understand others’ points of view, keep up the process of engaging them in dialogue. Ask, listen, and respond. Sometimes the response will be “Great idea, let’s do that.” Sometimes it will be, “Interesting, let’s discuss what that means to our budget or to customers.” Once in a while, it will be, “Let me repeat what I heard. Is that right? I see that differently. Can we compare our points of view?” The main point is this: To have people believe that you are really interested in hearing their thoughts, you have to consistently make it safe for them to share over time. Then come trust and credibility.

Safety is not easy sometimes. But dealing with it is essential.

May you have terrific results from your efforts!

Al