Category Archives: Crucial Accountability

Crucial Accountability QA

Don’t Agree On The Facts? How to Dialogue Anyway

Dear David,

As a certified trainer, I want to be prepared to answer students’ questions. In talking about separating facts from stories, the question came up: “What if people disagree about what each person said?” For example, I say to my son: “You said you would pick up milk on the way home.” He responds with: “I never said that.” Obviously, situations at work are more high stakes than picking up milk, but I’d love some advice on what to do when the facts are disputed.

Fact or Fiction

Dear Fact or Fiction,

Great question. In most disagreements, we expect our facts to be accepted—at least if we’ve stripped them of any conclusions, judgments, or stories. The idea is that facts are facts because they can be measured, witnessed, and replicated by anyone. Facts should be an area of agreement both parties can build on. That’s why our STATE skill is all about Starting with Facts.

However, as your example shows, people don’t always agree about the facts. I’ll suggest four different situations that result in factual disputes and outline strategies for dealing with each.

1. Trust Is at Risk. The high-stakes situation you describe with your son isn’t about milk. It’s about trust. If you don’t frame the problem correctly, you’ll end up talking about the wrong facts. Fortunately, there is a tool you can use to determine which aspect of a problem to address. We call the tool CPR.

  • C stands for Content. By “content” we mean the immediate incident or presenting problem. You’d have a content issue if your main concern is the missing milk. If this was a one-time occurrence, you might accept your son’s version of the facts. Maybe you only thought he said he’d pick up the milk.
  • P stands for Pattern. This is the conversation if your concern is for the “pattern” of disputed facts. You’d have a pattern issue if your son has repeatedly denied agreements you thought you had. You can imagine mishearing once, but not multiple times. The facts would include two or three instances of these discrepancies. Beyond these facts, you’d add your opinion that these instances fit together as a pattern.
  • R stands for Relationship. This is the conversation if your real concern is the “relationship.” You’d have a relationship issue if the incident or pattern has caused you to question whether you can trust your son. Your misgivings are a fact that your son needs to hear and address.

The mistake most people make is to focus on content—the facts related to a single incident—when their real concern is with the pattern or relationship. A related mistake is to allow the other person to drag a pattern or relationship conversation back to the details of each individual incident. When a conversation begins to get sidetracked by details, I use a script such as, “I don’t want to get into the details of any single incident. Instead, I want to focus on the overall pattern and how it affects our relationship.”

2. Trust Is Low. When trust is low and you don’t trust each other’s facts, you need verification—an agreement about how facts will be substantiated.

These kinds of verification procedures are very costly. They move you from “handshake deals” to “legal contracts” and from “self policing” to “external enforcement.”

Here is an example of verification in an environment of low trust: I was facilitating a negotiation exercise with an MBA class at Stanford and two of the teams were struggling with trust. Then one of the students threw his car keys on the table and declared, “If the instructor says I’ve lied, then your team gets my car.” His ploy worked. The two teams reached an agreement, he lived up to his side of the deal—and he got to keep his car.

3. It’s Debate, Not Dialogue. Dialogue is about adding facts to a Pool of Shared Meaning. Debate is about using facts to win an argument. When people begin to value winning over finding the truth, they use facts as pawns in their game. You begin to see them cherry picking, distorting, and denying the facts.

When you see debate, try to get back to dialogue. Dialogue requires two elements: A Mutual Purpose that both parties see as more important than any particular disagreement, and Mutual Respect that is felt by all sides. If you have a Mutual Purpose, use it to reframe the debate as dialogue. If you don’t have a Mutual Purpose, seek to find or invent one. And, in any case, demonstrate Respect.

If you can’t move to dialogue, then you’re stuck in a low trust environment where verification is required. Delegate fact-finding to a neutral party, use joint fact-finding, and incur all the costs that verification entails.

4. It’s Complicated. Sometimes it’s not the facts but what the facts add up to that is under dispute. Complex situations almost always entail a more sophisticated theory. The disagreement might be over the theory, not the facts.

In Crucial Conversations, we suggest separating facts—the basic verifiable evidence—from your story. Your story is your theory about what the facts mean. With complex issues—for example, “Will this policy improve learning?” or, “Has this change in taxes produced economic growth?”—the stories/theories are often presented as facts.

Sometimes, the theory deserves to be treated as a fact, because, like the theory of gravity, it is so thoroughly validated (of course, even in this example, we don’t know all there is to know about gravity).

Other times, the theory is still unsettled or disputed. Or, it’s settled and treated as fact by experts but has not gained public acceptance.

In these situations, it’s still very helpful to separate facts from stories. For example, it’s a fact that streets in Miami Beach flood far more today than they did ten years ago. Citizens there don’t need to agree on climate change or global warming to know they have a problem on their hands.

I hope these examples help you answer the questions you get.

Best of luck,

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Crucial Accountability QA

Being Micromanaged

The following article was originally published on September 8, 2004.

Dear Crucial Skills,

My boss has started micromanaging me. She constantly asks me for updates. One morning, by 10 o’clock, I had already received ten e-mail messages from her and it took me an hour and a half just to reply to her requests for updates! To add to things, she’s related to the vice president so I feel like if I try to bring this up and it goes awry, my working days could be numbered. This management style has started to affect my sleeping and eating habits and even my self esteem.

Any suggestions on how I can gently bring this up to her?


Dear Frazzled,

Micromanaging is almost always a crucial conversation someone is acting out rather than talking out. A leader is feeling nervous or vulnerable and acts it out through incessant hovering and controlling. The result is that the direct report often feels hurt and resentful and acts it out through withdrawal or other displaced hostility. The solution is to talk it out. Unless and until you can have a conversation about trust and autonomy, this game will get worse and worse.

So, here are three pieces of advice I hope will help you and others step up to this kind of crucial conversation.

Tip #1: Hold the Right Conversation. Don’t let this get sidetracked into a discussion of how a project is going or other diversions from the real issue. The topics you need to explore thoroughly with your boss are:

• How much confidence do you have in me in my key areas of responsibility?
• What level of communication is both efficient and sufficient between us given your level of trust in me?

If in exploring her confidence in you, you discover there are serious concerns, you can then turn the topic to ways you can create evidence for her that more trust is warranted. If you find she has great confidence but just requires much more communication, move on to the next two tips.

Tip #2: Make It Safe For Your Boss (and you). When you open the conversation, head off any misunderstanding she may have of your motives by declaring them candidly. If you fail to do this, she’ll hear you as being critical of her, or worse, wanting to have country club freedom and no accountability. Help her know you just want to be as productive as possible, to feel proud of your work, and to gain her confidence by performing up to expectation. For example, you could use the contrasting skill we teach as follows:

“Could we talk for a few minutes about how we work together? I’ve noticed a couple of things that are keeping me from being as productive as I can. It’s a bit sensitive, and I worry about sounding like I’m not supportive of you, or that I know better than you how things should be done. I don’t feel that way at all. And yet, I think it’s worth talking about because it could help me do a better job for you and create a climate where I can feel good about my work. Would that be okay?”

Tip #3: Finally, Make It Motivating. You can help your boss want to deal with this by sharing concrete examples of how her behavior has created problems she would care about. When you hold an accountability discussion (confronting gaps between what you expect and what you observe–for example in your boss’s management style) with someone you think won’t care about your concerns, you need to work hard to see how the issue you’re raising is creating problems for him or her. One of the reasons we’re so ineffective during crucial accountability discussions is that we’re so absorbed in thinking about how the problem affects us that we give no thought to how it’s affecting the other person. Those who are most skilled at holding others accountable are able to influence others by helping them see consequences they already experience that they can change by changing their behavior. For example:

“I know one thing that’s important to you is that I meet your deadlines. That’s important to me, too. The level of reporting you sometimes ask of me makes that somewhat difficult. For example, one morning I had ten requests for updates from you by 10 a.m. I know that’s an extreme example, but it illustrates the point that the hour and a half I spent answering those was time taken from getting the job done.”

Or, “You ask me at times how I like my work. And you know, I really do. But there are times I spend a whole evening in a funk because I think you don’t have confidence in me and I’m not sure how to earn it.”

If you help your boss see how her behavior is creating consequences she doesn’t want, she’ll not only feel safe with you, but she’ll also be more motivated to make changes.

Good luck,

Crucial Accountability QA

Recovering from a Ruined Reputation

Dear Emily,

I am the victim of a character assassination at work. I have been at my current workplace for ten years. A new colleague seems to be jealous of my successes and has started spreading stories, gossip, and rumors, stating that I am a difficult colleague to work with. At work, I am direct in my comments, and as a woman, I am judged more harshly by speaking up. The gossip, rumors, and slander are ruining my reputation and damaging my career. Despite team coaching, the behavior and the storytelling has not stopped. Unfortunately, many people are starting to believe the stories that are being told. There are members of my organization that believe in me, and have acknowledged that the issue is my colleague and her misrepresentation of who I am. There is an opportunity for me to address this in a public forum—an organization-wide meeting. Is confronting this issue publicly a brave move or a suicide mission?

Reputation on Life Support

Dear Reputation on Life Support,

I can hear the frustration in your question. What a tough situation to be in! You work hard, have dedicated ten years to an organization, and now your reputation is being harmed. Reading between the lines, I am guessing that you feel like you have done everything you can and now you are looking for validation that the “nuclear” option is the right way to go. Addressing the issue in a public forum is a big, big step to take. So, before we go there, let’s back up and see if there aren’t other, smaller steps that you could take to move toward what you really want.

First, have you had a conversation with this person directly? You mention team coaching but I don’t see anything that says you have talked to this person, identified the behavior, and requested that it stop. Assuming you have not done that, this is the first and best place to start.

A few things to consider as you hold the conversation:

Unbundle with CPR. As with every conversation, you want to consider whether this is a content, pattern, or relationship issue. Clearly, not a content issue here as you report this has been going on for some time. And, since it seems clear that this is impacting both your relationship with this person and your relationship with others, I would say you are also past the pattern conversation. You need to hold a relationship conversation.

Describe the Gap. This straightforward step is often one of the hardest to do because you have to get really clear on your expectations and on the specific, factual observations. Begin by sharing your expectations. You might start by saying, “I have worked here for ten years and have always valued the professional, respectful behavior of my colleagues. Respect for others has been, in my experience, an unwritten rule around here.” Then, share your observations of this person’s behavior. Be as factual as possible. This might sound like, “I have heard from a few people that they have heard you say things about me that seem disrespectful. For example….” Now, because you haven’t heard this directly, you want to make sure that you don’t overstate. Be careful to clarify this: “I haven’t heard any of this directly so I am not sure what you actually said.” Then invite the other person into the dialogue with a question: “Can you help me understand?”

Opening up with a question allows for the other person to agree with the gap you have described or share her differing perspective. Either way, it gets the conversation started.

Take Small Steps in the Conversation. Especially when an issue has built up over time, it can be easy to jump right into the conversation and try to resolve everything at once. That can be overwhelming and lead us to be overly forceful. Instead, consider this a series of conversations, each with a discrete, small goal. For example, your goal for this first conversation may simply be to see if the other person will acknowledge what she has said to others about you. Your next step or objective might be to have a conversation about whether she sees her remarks as disparaging or not, whether her remarks align with the standards of respect you have in your organization. At each step, your goal should be to understand the other person’s perspective, not to change the other person’s behavior.

Wait, really? If at this point you are thinking I am totally off my rocker, then good for you. This means you actually are paying attention because yes, I really did just say that your goal should NOT be to change the other person’s behavior. If you enter a conversation with that goal, it will come through and it will promote resistance and defensiveness. Though this may seem counterintuitive, if you really want to change someone’s behavior, if you really want to be in a position to influence someone’s behavior, you have to start by letting go of that goal and instead focusing on understanding the other person’s behavior and his or her perspective of that behavior.

Next, let’s assume that you have held the conversation and the behavior continues. What do you do now? Is it time for the nuclear option yet?

While you can always jump right to public shaming, you still have a couple of steps left in your escalation path you may want to consider. For example, try having the conversation in the presence of a neutral third party who you both respect. Having someone listen in and coach through a difficult conversation will help you both be on your best behavior. If that doesn’t work, consider talking to your HR representative. This accomplishes a couple of objectives. First, you will probably get some good advice on how to handle the situation. Second, it will give you a chance to formally document the situation.

So, now is it time for public shaming? Nope. It’s not and that’s because it should never be time for public shaming. Holding crucial conversations in a public forum can be effective and appropriate when the issue is something that is impacting multiple people or when you need the collective wisdom of the group to solve a problem or come to agreement. Public crucial conversations are almost never effective when your goal is to use the tide of public opinion to shame someone into change, which I fear may be your underlying motive. While an “intervention” may have a place in a therapeutic setting, it doesn’t belong in a respectful workplace.

Good Luck,

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Crucial Accountability QA

Seeking Accountability

The following article was originally published on August 4, 2004.

Dear Ron,

I lead a faith-based, non-profit organization after fifteen years as a mid-level executive in the wireless industry. Working with board members and volunteers is tough sometimes. My difficulty comes in creating safety and expressing my concerns when people do not deliver on their commitments. Given the volunteer nature of both parties, I want to appreciate their desire to serve, not alienate them, and yet I want to let them know things that need to be done are not getting done. Can you help me?

Seeking Accountability

Dear Seeking,

Talking through tough issues with someone in a volunteer organization is a lot like dealing with peers or someone at a higher level in any organization. You cannot rely on position, power, or the threat of losing employment to get the other person’s attention. If you are too heavy-handed, you risk creating offense; if you sugarcoat or water down your communication, you minimize the problem. What to do?

Consider the following tips:

Start with Heart. Make sure you go into the conversation with the right end in mind–you want to solve the problem of someone not keeping a commitment in a way that preserves and enhances the working relationship. You don’t want to shame. You don’t want to make the other person feel bad or wrong.

Master Your Stories. Ask, “Why would a reasonable, rational, decent person not keep his or her commitment?” It might be a motivational problem (he or she didn’t WANT to do it) or an ability problem (he or she wasn’t ABLE to do it). Which is the case? You don’t know! Don’t assume the worst; don’t tell yourself a villain story. Be curious, not furious.

Get Unstuck. Decide at what level the conversation needs to be held: content (first time), pattern (it’s happened before), or relationship (how it affects the trust and respect between the two of you). If the problem is a pattern of a behavior that you’ve dealt with before, don’t just talk about the current instance. Talk about the fact that it keeps happening and discuss what you can do to keep it from continuing. If it’s starting to affect how the two of you work together, address that issue, and discuss what you’d like from your working relationship.

STATE your Path. Start with the facts of what’s going on, not your conclusions about why it’s happening. An effective way of sharing the facts is to compare what was promised with what happened. Don’t make accusations (“You didn’t keep your promise.”) Don’t make statements of emotion (“You make me so mad!”). Instead, try, “you told me the report would be ready by Monday. It’s now Tuesday and I still haven’t received the report. What happened?”

Move to Action. Remember at the end of the conversation to document “Who does What by When,” to clarify the plan going forward. This will ensure that everyone knows what is expected, and help them understand what they’ll be accountable for. Be sure to follow up. This will still be a difficult conversation, but handling it with these principles and skills will increase the probability of solving problems in a way that builds both respect and your relationship.

Best of luck,

Crucial Accountability QA

Confronting a Rude and Disrespectful Coworker

The following article was first published on December 18, 2012.

Dear Ron,

I am currently a medical director of emergency services at a small community hospital, and I have an ongoing problem physician who provides outstanding medical care but can’t keep his mouth shut. He offends nursing staff with his obnoxious, condescending, and judgmental comments, and his patient satisfaction scores are horrific, as you might imagine.

I have talked to him about this issue several times, as has the emergency department director at another hospital. I would rather help him improve than fire him and make him someone else’s problem. How can I confront this problem physician about his rude and disrespectful behavior?

Sympathetic Director

Dear Sympathetic,

I admire your concern for this “problem physician.” Too often we, as leaders, treat individuals as cogs in the machine—interchangeable parts to be hired and used. Sometimes we use them up, discard them, and hire some more. This is the danger of literally believing the label that people are only “human resources.” Your concern for the individual is an important starting point for solving this problem.

Another common mistake leaders make is to put our concern about individuals above all other people in the organization. We often hold on to problematic individuals or underperformers at the expense of fellow teammates. In your organization, these teammates might include the nursing staff, patients, and other doctors.

When we allow someone to stay in their position and it results in others being abused, team values being sacrificed, and work being inefficient, it’s not compassion, it’s negligence. The difficult challenge of leadership requires balancing our concern for all the stakeholders and working through their often conflicting needs.

At a minimum, direct reports deserve their leader’s honest evaluation of their work. They deserve targeted, behaviorally specific feedback, and improvement suggestions. Anything less shortchanges the individual and undercuts team and organizational effectiveness.

As leaders, we should also provide the resources and means to make the needed improvements. Many leaders assume the problem with poor performers is they lack motivation; therefore, the obvious way to fix the problem is to motivate their employees. However, motivation is only one of three possible causes of poor performance. It is also possible that the employee wants to perform but is unable to do so because of a lack of skills, knowledge, or resources. A third possible cause is a combination of motivation and ability—they are unable to do what’s required and don’t want to do it even if they could. To try and skill up the unmotivated is a waste of time and resources. To motivate the unable only creates depression, not progress.

You describe the physician’s behavior as “offensive, obnoxious, condescending, and judgmental.” You mention that you and others have talked to him several times with no discernible improvement. Has he expressed a willingness to change, then failed to improve? It might be an ability problem. Has he shrugged off your feedback and shown no interest in trying to change? If this is the case, he probably lacks motivation.

Going forward, here’s my recommendation. Have a crucial conversation with the physician. Don’t try to solve the most recent occurrence; rather, use it as an example of the pattern of behavior you want changed. Be specific. Be factual. Compare what you expected with what occurred. Note that you and others have had several talks with him about this subject, with no discernible improvement. Explain that it’s time to take action, then give him two choices. If he is willing to make a heartfelt effort to stop his hurtful behaviors, offer to give him your complete support. This assistance could include training, coaching, counseling, pairing him with a partner, frequent accountability, or feedback sessions to gauge progress and provide support.

If he is willing to try, set behaviorally specific objectives such as, “You will not call anyone in the hospital a ‘fat head.'” Identify how you will measure his progress—such as peer interviews, surveys, key observer reports—and set specific dates and deadlines to review progress as well as make modifications and changes. Set a final date by which he must demonstrate specific changes or explain that termination will result. Make sure all expectations are absolutely clear about deadlines, the behavior to be changed, and how it will be measured. You don’t require perfection, but you do require sustained, significant improvement. If he agrees, follow the plan.

If he does not agree to the development plan you propose and cannot propose an acceptable alternative, initiate the removal process. Allow no more delays or chances.

Responsible leaders care about their people—the one and the many. They don’t callously fire individuals, nor do they allow a single employee to disrespect, abuse, or negatively impact others. They don’t demand change without helping people have the means to change and reasonable time to do it. Responsible leaders give actionable feedback and recognize progress. And they follow through.

I wish you all the best in the difficult and worthwhile effort of leading and serving others.


Crucial Accountability QA

How to Forgive, Forget, and Move Forward

Dear David,

How should I handle a very opinionated person who says things to me that are hateful and mean? This particular person is so opinionated that I could try giving my point of view until I’m blue in the face and they won’t hear a word I say. When I’ve tried expressing how their comments make me feel, it doesn’t seem to matter to them and they respond with, “Well that’s just the way I feel. That’s my opinion.” However, they want to then continue on with the relationship and act like nothing has happened, yet I’m left harboring negative feelings about the hurtful things they’ve said. This relationship is very important to me so I want to get past it. How do I forgive and forget so that the relationship can move forward?

Drowning in Opinions

Dear Drowning,

This is the point where a parent might say, “Just find better friends.” But I’m betting that’s too simple, right? For example, let’s assume that this opinionated person isn’t just a friend—she’s your mom. I’ll try a few suggestions.

What do you really want? You say you want to “forgive and forget so the relationship can move forward.” This is a worthy goal, but it’s also a goal that demands a lot from you. I’ll focus on the “forgive” part. I’m not sure the “forget” part is as important as “moving forward.”

Negative stories. This person (let’s say it’s your mother) is telling herself an unflattering story about you—about your character, your capabilities, your motives, or your future. Some of this negative narrative is based on facts, i.e., her experiences with you over the years. But this narrative is also affected by her own strong opinions, which are obviously different from yours. The result is that your mother is more likely to see your flaws than your strengths because they fit the storyline in her head. In addition, instead of giving you the benefit of the doubt, she’s likely to assume and expect the worst—again because that fits her narrative.

Next, cope with her negative narrative about you.

Take responsibility. Be accountable for the parts of the story that are actually true. For example, if your mother is accusing you of being thoughtless and mean, and she has evidence, then admit it. Apologize. Do your best to repair the damage you’ve done, and then move on. If you don’t own your past, you won’t be able to clean the slate, and earn a fresh start. But don’t expect to ever really earn a fresh start. Your mother’s narrative is based on a long history, and her opinions are bolstered by multiple sources of influence.

Center on areas of Mutual Purpose and Mutual Respect. Focus on the parts of the relationship where you have Mutual Purpose and feel Mutual Respect, and then build from there. Focus on commonalities instead of differences. I’m not telling you to avoid touchy disagreements. You won’t hear that from the folks who brought you Crucial Conversations. But don’t turn disagreements into wedges that drive you further apart. Instead, be direct, honest, and frank about your differences, while—at the same time—reiterating Mutual Purpose and Mutual Respect. Remember, you don’t love your mother because of her opinions; you love her regardless of her opinions.

Stop using her as a reference for your own self-respect. This is more difficult than it sounds. Quit looking to her for approval in areas where the two of you disagree. Find better ways to determine your self-worth. Decide that her disapproval doesn’t matter to you—at least not as much as it does now. Your mother will continue to make opinionated statements, but you can determine whether her opinions hurt you or not. Make yourself invulnerable to them.

Now, influence her opinions.

Explain natural consequences. You suggested her opinions are unlikely to change, and you know best. Verbal persuasion is not a very powerful way to change hearts and minds. But here are a couple of suggestions for when she says, “That’s just the way I feel. That’s my opinion.”

Personal Consequences—natural consequences to herself. Point out the inconsistency between her opinion and the person you love. “I know it’s your opinion, and I respect that. But I don’t think it’s who you really are. I know you as a loving person. When I hear you say something hurtful, I don’t see it as the real you.”

Social Consequences—hidden victims. Explain the impact she is having on others—that she may not be aware of. “I don’t think you knew that Mary—the eight-year-old at the table—her grandfather died of cancer earlier this month. When you said smokers deserve to get sick, she left the table. I found her sobbing in the bathroom.”

Model your values. Direct and vicarious experiences are the most powerful ways to change attitudes and opinions. You provide these experiences, so make sure they are positive. For example, imagine that your mother is hearing hateful opinions on TV about a certain aspect of your life, but is seeing that contradicted in the way you actually live your life. Your living example is more powerful than any media. But don’t expect her to change her words—at least not at first. She may be too prideful for that. Instead, look for her to soften her actions. Allow her actions to speak louder than words.

I hope these ideas will help,

Crucial Accountability QA

How to Deal with a Distracted Employee

Dear Crucial Skills,

My brother has a small IT business and usually employs four to five people at a time. He recently employed a twenty-year-old college student we’ll call Mark. Because of his girlfriend’s unexpected pregnancy, Mark had to stop studying and finds himself raising a family. His family situation is complex; he commutes about an hour to work and then another hour to the opposite side of the city to his girlfriend’s home. The baby is three months old and there are tensions in their young family.

My brother wants to help this young man, but at the same time, finds himself paying good salary to someone who shows up late, leaves early, and has constant distractions at work. Mark is often visibly tired and drowsy. My brother has considered letting him work from home, but I advised him against it. Adjusting Mark’s schedule to part-time is another option, but would mean a pay cut to Mark. My brother knows he is up for a crucial conversation with Mark. What is the best way to approach this?

Out of Options

Dear Out of Options,

This question hits so close to home for me! I have a fifteen-month-old daughter and commute over an hour to VitalSmarts each day. If not for the crucial conversations I use at home everyday to relieve the natural tensions of a blended family (I also have four children from my husband’s first marriage), I could be Mark!

Your question brings to mind a question I have often considered—is it possible to bring too much heart to a conversation? It seems clear that your brother has the best of intentions toward Mark. He actually knows what is going on in Mark’s life, which is not something all employers can say. Second, he is actively seeking solutions that would help Mark and considering the impact of those solutions on Mark. Both of these things demonstrate a lot of heart. But does he have too much heart? When do you say enough is enough?

Honestly, I think it is impossible to bring too much heart to a conversation or a relationship. An overabundance of caring and concern is never a problem. However, an imbalance of caring and concern is.

Years ago, I read a wonderful article about the pitfalls of being a small business owner. One pitfall was caring too personally for the individuals in your employ, who are often also related to you. The author pointed out that small business owners hold on to poor-performing employees too long, often at the expense of other employees.

The key then is making sure you are balanced in your concern. In Crucial Conversations, we teach that you assess your motives (Start with Heart) by asking not only what you want for the other person, but also what you want for yourself, for the relationship and for others in the organization. So you must balance your concern for yourself and the needs of others with the needs of Mark. Allowing Mark’s poor performance to persist not only has negative implications for your brother, but it’s also unfair to the others who work for him.

So here is some practical advice for your brother and everyone out there who has a “Mark” in their life.

First, get really clear on your expectations. What exactly needs to be done? Does it matter how or when it is done? What constraints are you operating under? It is imperative that we challenge our own assumptions about how work is done, the biases we have about different schedules or approaches, and the norms we may be operating under without even realizing it.

It is easy to think, “I need someone here from 8 a.m.–5 p.m.,” because that is how it’s always worked in the past. But it may be true that it is more about the work getting done than the person being present. Is work from home or flexible work-time an option? If not, why? What are the barriers and are they worth removing? The answers are less important than the clarity around them. For some roles, people absolutely need to be in an office space. Some roles must be from 8 a.m.–5 p.m. That is fine. Just make sure you know why, and that you are clear about your expectations.

Next, communicate the gap. Once you are clear in your own mind on the expectations, articulate them for the other person. Make sure Mark is as clear as you are. Then share the gap you see between your expectations and his performance. Make this 100 percent factual. At this point, it isn’t about why there is a gap or even what the gap means. This is solely about clearly communicating the gap.

Finally, diagnose what is causing the gap and start brainstorming how you can close the gap. As you do so, make sure you communicate your Mutual Purpose. Your goal should be to close the gap by finding a solution that meets both your expectations and Mark’s needs. Be open to diverse ideas about this. Anything that meets your expectations and Mark’s needs should be discussable, even if it is something you wouldn’t have thought of or aren’t initially comfortable with.

One last caveat—it is not your brother’s job to solve this problem by himself. When we care a great deal about someone, we often think we need to figure out the solution and then present it to them like a gift. We think, “Maybe Mark could work from home? Or maybe he could work part-time?” Thinking through alternatives beforehand is not necessarily a bad idea. Just be careful that you don’t unilaterally decide on the solution beforehand.

The purpose of the dialogue is to involve Mark in finding a solution, to help Mark understand where you are coming from, and to make sure Mark knows how much you care. This may mean that the conversation is really a series of conversations, one in which you discuss the gap and others in which you brainstorm solutions over time.

I wish your brother luck in working through this situation.