Influencer QA

Joseph Grenny on ABC News: Asking for Vacation Time

Author Joseph Grenny shares crucial conversations tips to ask for vacation time from work. Watch and hear his tips for succeeding in this hard-to-hold discussion.

Crucial Accountability QA

Forced Retirement of a Valued Employee

Joseph Grenny is the author of the New York Times bestsellers, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, and Influencer.

Joseph Grenny is the author of three bestselling books, Influencer, Crucial Conversations, and Crucial Confrontations.


Crucial ConfrontationsQDear Crucial Skills,

Our employee, “Mr. Ned,” will turn 70 in September after working for us for 17 years. He has been one of our most productive employees and a model for the younger technicians to aspire to. However, in recent months he has started to slow down and the quality of his work is declining.

While we care for him and appreciate his years of hard work, how can we tell him that we must let him go?

Shy about Retiring

A Dear Shy,

In order to get this conversation right, you will need equal measures of respect, firmness, and clarity.

1. Respect. There’s a good chance Mr. Ned will find this conversation terribly unpleasant. However, you can reduce his suffering immensely if you make it plain that he is talking with someone who regards him highly. If he walks away concluding that he is not respected, your message about his performance will be lost. Share specific expressions of appreciation and recollections of important contributions he has made over the years. Use these compliments judiciously throughout your conversation.

2. Firmness. If you’ve concluded that he needs to retire, do not string him along by turning your conversation into a performance review. If you fail to communicate that this is not a motivation problem, but an insolvable ability problem, he may try to bargain with you for things that are not physically possible.

Now, I’m assuming in this situation that you have followed proper HR procedures and documented concerns over some period of time so that it is your prerogative to require retirement. If you have not, you will need to step back and begin that process.

3. Clarity. This is one of the most common areas in which people under-prepare for crucial confrontations. You need to be crystal clear on the facts. What evidence do you have that his performance has slipped to unacceptable levels? Can you demonstrate that it is a pattern? Do you have enough examples persuade him that this is not a motivation problem? If he is desperate to hang onto his job, he may try to refute your examples. To avoid this, you need to do two things: 1) refer regularly to the recurring pattern; 2) provide enough data points to establish the pattern.

For example, if he says, “But the customer kept feeding us new requirements on that drawing, so of course it would take longer!” You need to say, “I understand there may have been special circumstances. The issue is that over a period of months, with over a dozen drawings like this, your turnaround time has more than doubled. The pattern is the problem.”

Now, he may have noticed the same problem and is relieved to have it in the open. I watched this happen several years ago with a very senior engineer who was losing his hearing in a way that impeded his performance. He was too proud to wear a hearing aid until a colleague had a crucial confrontation with him in a wonderfully respectful but firm way. This storied engineer was grateful the issue had surfaced as the burden of pretending there was no problem had become quite taxing. The conversation helped him acknowledge he was moving to a different phase of life and take steps that prepared him for retirement. If your colleague tumbles to the conclusion, stop sharing data and simply move to a supportive conversation to explore next steps.

Finally, let me suggest an alternative option. I have seen many instances when companies are prudent enough to be creative and retain the wisdom aging employees have to offer. For example, could he move to a part-time role? Could he become an advisor? Could he mentor younger employees—even on a contract basis? Or could he simply be invited back now and again for project reviews?

It’s easy to underestimate the immense tacit knowledge senior employees have and later regret letting all of their experience walk out the door. One of the most sincere expressions of respect—and wisest HR moves you could make—would be to find a creative way to not “put him down,” but keep him up!

I can tell you care deeply about Mr. Ned and am confident he’ll know that as you hold this very crucial confrontation.


Kerrying On

Kerrying On: Tombstone Talk

Kerry Patterson

Kerry Patterson is coauthor of four New York Times bestsellers, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Accountability, Influencer, and Change Anything.


Kerrying On

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I’ve often heard that on our death beds, none of us is likely to look back on our life and lament, “I should have spent more time at the office.” To be frank, I’ve known several people who should have spent more time at the office, but this doesn’t negate the point that one day, we’ll look back on our lives and assess what we did.

Research on the topic of happiness reveals that most of us have no idea about what actually causes it. In Stumbling on Happiness, author Daniel Gilbert suggests that most of us are pretty bad at predicting what will make us happy and what won’t. For instance, when you ask people which will make them happier—a bigger salary or taking a daily walk with a loved one—people generally pick the money. However, when you measure people in both conditions, more time with a loved one typically yields more happiness.

When it comes to my own happiness, I do know a couple of things. First, happiness is not a constant state that one hunts down, tackles to the ground, and possesses. You never achieve happiness; you just experience happy moments. Second, we often assume receiving recognition for our labors will bring happiness. Not to say that it doesn’t, but sometimes, it’s surprising what kind of recognition truly matters.

Last week, as I drove my nine-year-old granddaughter, Kelsee, to our house for a short visit, she asked me what kind of job I had. For a couple of minutes I talked about training and consulting while Kelsee sat quietly and listened. Eventually, I mentioned that my partners and I also wrote books. Now this got her attention. Books she understood.

“You’re an author?” she asked.

“Yes,” I explained, “that would make me an author.”

“Can I see your books?”

As soon as we arrived home, Kelsee rushed to my office to examine the books. She touched each as if it had been retrieved from a sunken treasure chest.

“Can I have some to take to school?” Kelsee asked.

“Why would you want to do that?”

“So I can put them in the school library.”

This library Kelsee spoke of, of course, would be a grade-school library. I smiled as I imagined children dressed in three-piece suits, carrying miniature briefcases, and checking out books that explain how to wield influence over challenges such as world-wide calamities and corporate failure.

“I doubt that kids your age would enjoy the books,” I explained.

It took me a while to talk Kelsee out of the idea of placing our books in her grade-school library, but eventually she accepted my advice with quiet resolve. However, she wasn’t done. A week later, when I once again drove Kelsee to our home, she struck up the following conversation.

“Grandpa, during show-and-tell last week I told my teacher that my grandfather writes books.”

“Really? And what did she say?”

“She asked who you are.”

“And what did you tell her?”

“Your name. I said that my grandfather is Kerry Patterson.”

“And then what did she say?”

“Well,” Kelsee continued, “before she could answer, Hannah—another girl in my class—shouted real loud: ‘NOT THE KERRY PATTERSON!'”

To be honest, I was a little surprised that a nine-year-old girl had ever heard of me. Surely she had me confused with somebody else.

Kelsee enthusiastically continued her story. She was obviously enjoying the moment.

“So I asked Hannah how she had heard of you and she explained: ‘My mom reads everything he writes.'”

“And what did you say to that?” I asked.

Kelsee paused for a moment, smiled wide and then said: “So—you’re familiar with his work.”

Now, that short interaction with Kelsee will never make it onto my resume. There you’ll find a chronological list of accomplishments in which I will have taken satisfaction, but you won’t find the secret of happiness. The secret of happiness lies not in the act of creating joy. The secret of happiness lies in recognizing joy when it comes.

With this in mind, here’s what I desire to have stated in my eulogy—better yet, I want it carved in bold letters at the top of my tombstone:

“So—you’re familiar with his work.”

This one moment of recognition from my granddaughter brought me happiness.