Crucial Conversations QA

Micromanaging Revisited

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Al Switzler

Al Switzler is coauthor of four bestselling books, Change Anything, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, and Influencer.

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Crucial Conversations

Q  Dear Crucial Skills,

I read with interest the Q&A posted 9/8 (“Being Micromanaged”) and handled by Joseph Grenny.

I’d like to reverse the scenario and ask what should the manager who believes that his/her direct report is “wanting to have country club freedom and no accountability” do? As a manager, I resist micromanaging at all costs; it’s not the way I want to be managed and it’s not the way I want to manage. However, I may well be a manager who can be taken advantage of, and that doesn’t feel particularly good. I’m in higher education where there is high value placed on collegiality. This translates most often into a great deal of autonomy at the expense of accountability. With one employee I recently approached this crucial conversation perhaps too delicately. How can managers find the proper balance with employees?

Thank you,

Dr. Delicate

A Dear Dr. Delicate:

As I respond to your question, I want to extend it to other situations. I don’t think people want to micromanage or be micromanaged anywhere. Micromanagement is not desirable even in tense environments such as airport towers, nuclear power plants, or emergency rooms. It’s certainly not what people want at home with partners or with children. “Take out the garbage. Did you put in a new liner? Did you put the lid on the garbage can? Did you close the garage door?” All of this sounds like nagging. It certainly minimizes autonomy and initiative. And, as you noted, it minimized collegiality and other positive forms of relationships.

On the other hand, particularly in high-risk situations or where there is a track record of performance problems, managers or leaders don’t want to say, “I don’t want to micromanage, so I’ll just trust you to perform and get back to me when you find it convenient.”

So what can be done to hold people accountable without micromanaging? Here are a few suggestions.

1. Excellent performance begins with clear expectations. As you set expectations with individuals or groups, make sure you not only include what the desired results are, but also get agreement about how you will talk about issues or problems that come up. Talk about the process of accountability and about how you define management vs. micromanagement–from both sides.

It could sound something like this: “We’ve agreed that the proposal will be submitted for review to me by next Tuesday at noon. Can we talk for a few minutes about what each of us should do if we run into problems or barriers?” In this discussion, you can talk about what the other person will do to keep you informed in advance if there is the possibility of a delay, or if he or she needs additional input, or whatever. Also, you can get agreement about how you’ll check in with the person. The outcome of this conversation is that both of you should feel comfortable with and clear about the outcomes and the process you’ll use to ensure accountability. Ask specific questions such as: “Do you feel okay about the process?” and “Are you comfortable with our plan concerning accountability?” These questions give you opportunities to make sure that your intention is to get results and not to micromanage. To emphasize this point, you need agreements about how you hold others accountable. What is your comfort level about frequency and specificity? What is the other person’s comfort level? The balance comes from the dialogue you have up front.

2. Look at your story. Too often people tell themselves that if they confront someone, the person will see it as micromanaging. This can be a “Sucker’s Choice”: a choice where we see only two options–both of them bad. (e.g., “If I confront people, they’ll see it as being ‘on their case’; or I can not confront them and let the results suffer.”) In reality, there is often a third, better alternative: You can confront the issue of accountability AND not micromanage. So you mentally push yourself to find the AND. “How can I confront this issue so the results are achieved AND avoid having the other person think I’m micromanaging? In fact, how can I deal with performance issues AND strengthen our relationship?” Such questions, of course, help you to focus on what you really want for you, for the other person, and for the relationship. You don’t have to choose between performance and relationship…you can get both.

3. Describe the gap. If you need to discuss a performance issue, you can create the safety needed for a helpful discussion by describing the gap. Describe what you agreed on and then what you observed and how it differed from what you expected. The gap between these two is what you are going to talk about. If you can begin well, the rest is often easy. Make sure you start with facts, not emotions or conclusions. You begin with an observation, not an accusation. When you can do this well, you send a message that says, “I’ve noticed this and I’m interested in learning what happened–I have not pre-judged you or the issue.” Also, when you have an agreement upfront about how accountability discussions will be held, there are no surprises. With no surprises and lots of safety, holding talks about performance is not seen as micromanaging.

I hope these three points help. I also hope that you and others can see how they can be applied at a college, in manufacturing, other businesses, and at home.

Best wishes,

Al

Crucial Conversations QA

Vague Feedback

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kerry Patterson

Kerry Patterson is coauthor of four bestselling books, Change Anything, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, and Influencer.

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Crucial Conversations

Q  Dear Crucial Skills,

The director of the agency I work for has decided (after three years) to call us in every month or so to discuss what’s going on in our departments and the agency in general. I’ve had two of these conversations with her. What it turns out to be is, “You’re doing a great job” (no details), then focusing on a “problem.” She tells me what she sees as a problem, tells me what agency policy is, and vaguely tells me how to handle it. She never asks my side of the problem, never asks how I currently handle the issue (exactly the way she says it should be handled!), and leaves me feeling unsupported and on the outside. I’ve been coming up with some ideas for these conversations such as asking her to define certain words she uses to describe me and find out if she means them positively or negatively–it’s often difficult to tell since she has a perpetual negative look on her face and in her tone.

Signed,

Anxious and Confused

A Dear Anxious,

I’m glad you asked this particular question because it brings up an issue that we’ve explored in some depth. The challenge in this case is: Which problem or problems do you deal with, and how do you start the conversation?

1. Which problem?

This is a classic case of one set of circumstances serving up a variety of problems–all related, and yet distinct and different. Let’s look at the array you mention in your description.

-It’s been three years without feedback.
– Your boss’s choice of words is vague, often leaving you wondering exactly what she’s talking about–with both your problems and successes.
– You’re not sure how she defines certain terms.
– Her tone and look are perpetually negative.
– She fails to involve you in problem solving, providing only her view.
– At the end of the conversation you don’t feel supported.
– She doesn’t recognize that you’re currently solving problems in the way she suggests.

In addition to the issues you allude to in your question, you may also have doubts about her motive (I know I would). Is she trying to help you? Or is she following a recent mandate, using the time to exert her influence, doing her best to show off in your presence, etc.?

As you try to choose from this rather long and varied list, ask yourself: What bothers you the most? What do you complain about when you go home at night? In short, what do you really want? This last question helps you select from the various options (you can’t discuss all of the issues in one sitting).

My guess is that while it may help clarify matters if your boss defines her terms, this is a far less important issue than several others you mentioned and wouldn’t be the best place to start. The fact that she fails to ask for your input and doesn’t recognize your current skills sounds far more important and both problems may be contributing to your feeling unsupported. Clarifying her words might help a little and would certainly be easier to discuss, but isn’t likely to get you what you want.

So, think about the various issues, talk about the component parts with a friend, ask yourself what you really want, and then reduce the problem to a single sentence–forcing yourself to get at the core issue.

2. How do you start the conversation?

Choosing what to talk about is only the beginning. Now you have to talk. Before you open your mouth, keep a good thought. Don’t enter the conversation feeling angry, smug, or superior. Most of us aren’t good enough actors to hide our underlying emotions. If you hold court in your head and find your boss guilty, the verdict will come out in your tone of voice and choice of words. Your nasty conclusions will make your boss defensive and put you at risk. Make it safe for both yourself and your boss by assuming that she’s simply unaware of the problem and doing her best. Then start by asking for permission–after all, this is your boss. For example: “I’m wondering if we can take a few minutes to talk about the new feedback process.”

When you’ve got permission, start by describing the problem. Don’t start with your conclusions or feelings. Both are controversial and typically cause others to become defensive. Start with the facts. For example: “In our last discussion you pointed out a problem and then made a suggestion on how to solve it. The last two times you’ve offered suggestions, I was already doing exactly what you proposed. It left me wondering if you have an accurate view of what I do and how I do it.” Then pause and wait for your boss’s response.

Now, a lot more will follow as the conversation unfolds, but this forum doesn’t allow for a complete handling of the confrontation. For now, let’s assume that you want to start off on the right foot and to do so you have to do two things well: select the right problem and then describe it in a way that makes it safe for the other person. Do these two things well and you’ll be heading down the right path in a way that will likely lead to a healthy confrontation.

Good luck and may all your conversations be effective ones.

Kerry

Crucial Conversations QA

The Boss is a Bully

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Joseph Grenny

Joseph Grenny is coauthor of four bestselling books, Change Anything, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, and Influencer.


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Crucial Conversations

QDear Crucial Skills,

My boss is out of control. He fabricates facts to support his personal agenda. He applies or ignores corporate policies at his whim. He makes blatant displays of favoritism–punishing some employees severely while overlooking others who do the exact same thing. He accuses employees falsely, and then creates evidence if needed to support his claims.

He has taken the Crucial Conversations class and uses it as a means of attack. He starts with “This is a crucial conversation,” and then follows with a litany of insults and accusations, omitting any attempt to make things feel safe.

Our institution has no sanctioned course of action where a supervisor can present a complaint. Several have gone to his superior and gotten nowhere. How can we use Crucial Conversations skills to better remedy a situation where honesty and truth are considered a secondary priority?

Signed,

Nearly Hopeless

A Dear Nearly Hopeless,

Sounds like the crucial conversation you need to have is with yourself. The best service you could offer to yourself is to find a different job. And the best service you could offer to your organization is to hold a very candid exit interview once you’ve lined up the next job. Unfortunately, weakness at crucial conversations is not confined to direct reports. Bosses are just as inclined to avoid them at all costs.

Now, I’m making two important assumptions–but provided my assumptions are correct, the primary problem here is that your boss’s superior is AWOL from his or her job. When an employee takes the enormous risk of giving skip-level feedback (i.e., going over her boss’s head to share concerns about her boss), the manager has a special obligation to protect the employee and to respond vigorously to the concerns. Clearly that has failed here. Now, in fairness, I need to share the big assumptions I’m making. I’m assuming that:

1. You and others have made a skillful attempt to give your boss feedback about his chronic untrustworthiness.

2. You and others have been skillful in how you communicated your concerns to your boss’s boss.

If you’ve done reasonably well at both of these, then you have–in my opinion–discharged your conscience marvelously and are left only with the obligation to move yourself to a healthy work situation. I know that can be a tough decision to implement, but it should be a fairly easy one to make. As long as you stay where you are you are enabling your boss’s bad behavior by robbing him of the natural consequences of it. The natural consequence of bad leadership is the loss of good talent. But even more important, you are falling short of your obligation to place yourself in environments where you can flourish and serve best.

I wish you the best in both creating better circumstances and positively influencing your current boss through the change.

Best regards,

Joseph

Crucial Accountability QA

Holding People Accountable

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kerry Patterson

Kerry Patterson is coauthor of four bestselling books, Change Anything, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, and Influencer.

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Crucial Confrontations

Q  Dear Crucial Skills,

I have a problem. Our business results are below expectations and upper management believes it’s because our supervisors are not holding their employees accountable for results. I have witnessed times when an employee does something not according to company policy and the employee’s immediate supervisor does nothing. We have had training courses galore in supervisory skill development, so I know the supervisors have been exposed to how to set expectations, how to observe and measure results, how to provide performance feedback, etc. It just seems that they do not want to confront the employees about performance problems because they don’t want to give the bad news.

The business unit vice president wants to start firing the supervisors. I don’t think that is the solution. I think we need to get our supervisors comfortable with confronting their employees about the performance issues.

Any ideas on how I can convince the Vice President?

Signed,

Conflicted in Connecticut

A Dear Conflicted,

You asked the right question. Why is it that people who’ve been trained in a specific skill don’t use it? This just happens to be the subject of twenty-five years of our research, so bear with me as I try to answer this often-asked question.

When people don’t enact a certain behavior, it’s for one of three reasons. They don’t want to do it, they don’t know how to do it, or both. When your bosses suggest that maybe they should start firing supervisors, it sounds as if they’ve made the following diagnosis: “The supervisors simply don’t WANT to do what they should do–everyone knows it isn’t fun holding employees accountable–so maybe firing a few will add an extra incentive to those who are left behind.”

This is hardly the correct solution. It’s more an act of frustration and desperation and will likely cause a whole host of new problems. It also doesn’t model what the bosses want the supervisors to do when dealing with employees who aren’t living up to their expectations. Fire them straight out of the chute? Surely there are other methods.

Here’s what we’ve generally found to be true with reluctant supervisors. Your diagnosis is right. It’s almost always an issue of perceived ability. Supervisors don’t have confidence that what they have learned will actually work when dealing with their employees. This can stem from one of several different sources. They may have only been given general directions, but don’t know exactly what to do and say. Most accountability training is long in theory and short in genuine skills. If supervisors have been given actual skills or best practices, they may not feel as if they know how to do them as of yet. Perhaps they weren’t given enough time to practice until the language was comfortable and the method was second nature.

Beyond effectiveness, you have to deal with relevancy of the training they’ve received. Did the supervisors see what they learned as something that would actually work with their people? Much of what is taught today fails this test. Those in the training look at the examples taught and think, “My people would NEVER react like that.” If the skills are out of date or out to lunch, who can blame the learners for discounting the material and not giving it a whirl at work? It’s possible that the training the supervisors had was well intended but wasn’t skill based enough, relevant enough, or long enough to create comfort.

Another common hindrance is related to social issues. If you’re asking supervisors to now hold people accountable to standards that you used to let go, who’s going to be the first to step up? Who wants to run the risk of being seen as the “tough nut” while everyone else is letting the issue slide? Who wants to look like a naive do-gooder? So people wait for others to say something before they speak up.

If this is the case, it’s important to meet as work groups, talk about the new expectations, explain the need for the new standard, and then hold people to it as a group. If you haven’t held these sessions, supervisors are going to stay mum. Nobody wants to look erratic.

What if the standard you’re asking people to keep is something you’ve asked for before, maybe even for years, but never really held people accountable to keep? You have, in effect, cried wolf, and now you expect people to believe you when the real wolf is at the door. You’ll have to make this sad truth part of your explanation to teams as you talk about the new/old standard. People are smart. They know you’ve been lax and that they’ve gotten away with poor performance. It’s part of today’s real standard, and you have to address this problem as well.

Additionally, a number of motivational factors could be influencing the supervisors’ behavior–ranging from the formal reward system to the informal actions of the big boss.

So, what’s a person to do in the face of these possibilities? You’ve got to get to all of the underlying causes. Expand your search for causes beyond simply “the supervisors don’t want to do what they’ve been told to do.” Think about what may be making it difficult for them to hold others accountable–what barriers could be removed? What motivation and ability components are coming into play here? There are bound to be several.

In any case, stick to your convictions. Conduct a quick diagnosis and then share with the bosses the various elements that are leading to the supervisors’ reluctance. Armed with a more complete picture as well as a more complex solution, they won’t feel compelled to fire people who are caught in a web of problems that are keeping them form doing what you want.

Good luck!

Kerry

Crucial Conversations QA

Wasting Time in Meetings

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kerry Patterson

Kerry Patterson is coauthor of four bestselling books, Change Anything, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, and Influencer.

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Q  Dear Crucial Skills,

My problem is the type of meetings my boss runs. There are few dynamics, the same items appear on the minutes, people give a 30 second report on these items, no one appears to look at the minutes from weekend to weekend, and no members of the management team challenge each other.

All members feel that the meetings as they are are a waste of time. Some make excuses for missing them, but as I am responsible for scheduling the meetings and issuing the minutes, that option is not available to me.

I do want to approach my boss about it–how can I do this without hurting his feelings and still achieve my objectives?

Signed,

Wasting Time in Meetings

A Dear Wasting Time,

Let’s start with what you know you don’t want to do–just to be sure. Here’s what you don’t want to say (even though it’s steeped in the truth): “I wonder if we could talk about our meetings. I’ve had a chance to be part of them for a while and I think I know (drum roll please) why everyone despises them and does his or her best to get out of them–even if it means having to have a root canal just to get an excuse.”

Obviously, a shot across the bow isn’t a particularly good opening position. Others have tried the less direct approach, clinging to indirect comments and humor. For instance, “Everyone who holds a good meeting please stand up. Not so fast Mr. Jones.”

The challenge is, how do you give feedback to someone who hasn’t asked for it? Twenty-five years ago when I took my first class in organizational behavior from the esteemed Bill Dyer–guru of group process–I learned something that I’ve never forgotten. He explained that when people found out that he was one of the world’s experts on group process, they’d ask: “Hey, you sat in our meeting, how did we do?” He learned through sad experience that they didn’t really want to know. He would tactfully point out an area that could use some improvement and the person asking for feedback would then thank and resent him. “It’s because we hadn’t contracted up front,” he explained. “Never give feedback unless you’ve contracted for it, up front.”

Plus, who likes constructive criticism anyway? I completely agree with Noel Coward: “I love criticism just so long as it’s unqualified praise.”

Which brings us to our challenge. You want to advise someone who hasn’t asked for it, you’re going to be pointing out problems, and the information could easily feel like a cheap shot.

Rule #1 – Start with mutual purpose. If you can find a way to let your boss know that your goal is to make him more effective, who can fight with that? So contract up front by asking if you could talk about ways to improve the meetings, ways to make them more effective. Point out that you think everyone needs to take more responsibility, and that you have an idea or two on how to do that.

Rule #2 – Focus on the meeting, not on your boss. Okay, it’s your boss’s meeting, but not really. Everyone has responsibilities. Everyone needs to do what it takes to make the meetings more effective. For instance, say people take assignments, but they report back with unfulfilled commitments and a weak story and then figure they’re off the hook. That’s simply unacceptable. If someone drones on or holds a side conversation or skips agenda items, it’s everyone’s responsibility to say something. Everyone’s in the meeting. The person at the head of the table isn’t the only one who can say something. Meeting improvements belong to everyone.

This is true in real time as well. When you’re in a meeting and you see something that’s making it less effective, follow these three simple steps: (1) Point out what has you concerned. “Jim, I thought we had decided on the vacation schedule, but I see that you keep wanting to return to it.” (2) Point out what you would like to see happen instead. “I was hoping that we had resolved that issue already.” (3) To avoid being too pushy, check with the group. “Does that make sense or should we return to the schedule?” The goal here is to go public with the problem without pointing fingers or coming off as a know-it-all.

So start by sharing your feelings that the meetings are not as effective as they could be–talk about the meeting in general and an overall area or two that could be improved.

Rule #3 – Offer alternative behaviors. Saying what isn’t working is only half the job. Once you’ve pointed out the problem, offer a potential solution. Be tentative. “Maybe if we had each person report on the assignment, and then if they haven’t completed it we can talk about it as a group. When we run into a problem, we seem comfortable reporting back without having completed the assignment or having notified anyone in advance. Is this how we want to work?”

Rule #4 – Only pick one thing that your boss himself might work on. After you’ve earned the right to talk about your boss by addressing the meeting in general, you can you offer him your opinion on what he might do. When you bring up the issue, do it in a spirit of jointly brainstorming problems and solutions. This helps feedback come across as one of many good ideas instead of a personal affront.

Rule #5 – Approach the discussion with one thought in mind. Your boss is a reasonable, rational, and decent person. An idea here and there could go a long way. You’re going to jointly brainstorm. How could this possibly be threatening?

Good luck, and may all of your meetings be better than a root canal.

Kerry

Crucial Conversations QA

Speaking with a Parent

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Joseph Grenny

Joseph Grenny is coauthor of four bestselling books, Change Anything, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, and Influencer.


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Crucial Conversations

QDear Crucial Skills,

I am in a real dilemma. My father has just turned 59 and he is showing signs of dementia. I do not know how to approach him. I am worried I will make things worse for him by bringing his attention to his health, even though I know he must be aware of his memory loss because it is so obvious. Because I have found it difficult to control my feelings and deal with the emotional pain when thinking about my father, I am worried about becoming emotional and upset when we do eventually discuss it. I want him to know more than anything that I love him dearly and will always be there for him.

Signed,

Desperate Daughter

A Dear Desperate Daughter,

Your father is lucky to have a daughter like you. He’s lucky that you love him enough to feel pain about his declining health, but also to intervene when it’s in his best interest. I hope my children will do the same.

I have a couple of thoughts for you about this situation. The first is a reality check about crucial conversations. The second is some important advice about how to succeed in this absolutely crucial conversation.

The reality check is this: being skilled at crucial conversations does not mean that a) they are easy, or b) they always lead to the outcomes you want. This conversation may well be difficult. It involves both you and your father coming to accept a reality that you may not like. He may want to deny or minimize the issue, and you may be so worried about rupturing your relationship that you’ll be tempted to let him.

The good news is that being skilled at crucial conversations helps you minimize the pain. It helps ensure that the tone and spirit of the conversation is as healthy as it can be, and that your chance of influencing the other person is as great as possible. In my own view, your current crucial conversation is all the more important because as much as anything it is a test of your love for your father. It is a measure of whether your motive in your relationship with him is more about serving his best interests or maintaining his positive feelings for you. I have an abiding belief that if it’s the former, you can find a way to have the latter, too. But if it’s the latter, you surrender the former in the bargain.

Now for the advice.

There are two things I’d advise you to keep in mind in this conversation. Both of these are predictors of your influence and success in the conversation.

1. You are more likely to succeed if you give up the need to succeed. Unless your father is in immediate physical danger, your goal in this conversation is not to convince him that you are right, but to open the topic for discussion. In fact, I’d suggest your goal not be to come to agreement about his current status as much as to come to agreement that something is happening and that you should agree to criteria for taking steps in the future. In other words, after opening the discussion, you might say, “Dad, given that your health is being affected, and that others are more likely to be aware of how bad it is than you are, can we talk about what signs we’ll watch for that indicate you need to change your living situation?” If this discussion is held before things are too acute, you may be able to keep an open dialogue going about where you are in the process. Unless things are dangerous now, focus less on how things are than on when things will need to change. Don’t worry about convincing him of your current view–just involve him in discussing scenarios.

2. Lead with facts, not stories. Your father may not agree with your story (“your memory is declining”). Your success in being persuasive depends upon your ability to share specific observations you’ve made–particularly those he may recognize. Share a series of these to help him see that it is a pattern, or he’s likely to write off the one or two you can recollect.

3. Generously express your love and discomfort while candidly expressing your concerns. As you know from reading “Crucial Conversations,” the predictor of success here is how safe your father feels with you. He’ll need to feel particularly safe when you’re talking about him adapting to a whole different lifestyle and reality. When he seems upset or worried or even defensive, step out of the content and hug and kiss him–or whatever is the way you two express affection for each other. Then collect yourself and return to the content when he’s ready. If needed, you may even want to break this up over time with agreed upon breaks in the conversation.

My thoughts and prayers are with you. It’s at times like this that we have a chance to return the love our parents gave us when we were less able. It’s the most honorable thing we can do. And your crucial conversation will be one of your first expressions of love and honor in this new phase of your relationship.

Best wishes,

Joseph

Crucial Accountability QA

Helping Others See Their Role

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Al Switzler

Al Switzler is coauthor of four bestselling books, Change Anything, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, and Influencer.

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Crucial Confrontations

Q  Dear Crucial Skills,

I have been working with a supervisor on her people approach. People who report to her often describe her as “condescending and controlling.” Several other directors and I have spoken with her many times with the goal of helping her with her people skills and making her successful. I have gotten to the point of being very blunt in what the expected behavior is. We’ve offered an outside work coach. She still does not understand.

She usually blames the other person and does not see her role in this pattern of behavior. Even when I have pointed out the pattern. She states she has changed her approach by asking questions instead of directing. I get the same comments about her new approach as her old approach, even from new employees.

Any suggestions as to how else this can be addressed?

Signed,

At Wit’s End

A Dear Wit’s End,

You’re dealing with a situation similar to those that other people face regularly in different settings. The problem–there’s a pattern going on that keeps you stuck and you can’t seem to get out of it–even when you deal with the pattern. Coworkers can’t seem to get a colleague to deliver when promised; parents can’t get their son or daughter to take out the trash on Monday morning in time for the pickup–and this has been going on for five years; a salesperson over-promises and makes exaggerated claims to get the sale, even though production and marketing have repeatedly told him or her to stop. You feel you’re knocking your head against a wall–it’s painful and the wall isn’t moving.

So what do you do? Do you push harder? Persevere, cope, do workarounds, give up?

Before I offer a suggestion or two, let me pause to praise you for your perceptions and your efforts. It takes courage and patience and caring to stick in there like you have. Way to go.

Now for some suggestions:

First, as you look at your challenge, think about getting meaning in the pool. You’ve done a great job. You’ve put your meaning in the pool. You’ve had others put their data in the pool. Yet the person doesn’t get it–no change or improvement is visible. Perhaps you should change the kind of data you’re sharing. Sometimes when we put our meaning in the pool, using our best skills, the other person doesn’t get it or believe it.

Now, I’m not going to repeat all the skills you’ll need to use, but the key skill to remember is to start with the facts. These are most often observations. This approach often works well because facts are verifiable, less controversial, and safer. Sometimes the approach can be made more effective by adding anonymous survey data. It’s one thing for this supervisor to hear from you and her colleagues; it’s often more effective to see data that comes from 360-degree feedback. The data is anonymous, it comes from multiple sources, and it is data–it is seen less as opinion.

During the last twenty years, I’ve had the experience that helping different groups of people see where they’re skilled and where they need to make improvements is best done with feedback data. These groups include management, highly technical individuals, attorneys, physicians, accountants, and more. When the other person agrees to participate in a survey feedback process, there is often enough mutual purpose (both of you want the same thing and the other person is willing to improve) that the action steps that follow lead to progress–progress that can be measured. The general principle here is that meaning in the pool, surrounded by mutual purpose and mutual respect, can lead to action. Survey feedback can help the meaning in the pool move from perceived opinion to more solid data or facts.

Second, think of the acronym CPR. There are three levels of discussion you can have in a crucial conversation: Content (talk about the issue the first time it’s a problem); Pattern (when the issue keeps coming up, discuss the pattern, not just one instance); and Relationship (when the recurring issue is affecting the way you interact or work together, discuss the impact it’s having on your relationship). It sounds to me like there are some significant relationship issues here. Are you beginning to not trust that the person can manage this group well? Are you thinking that this person’s condescending and controlling style is affecting morale, productivity, and customer satisfaction? You need to tell the supervisor this and help her understand what it means to you, to coworkers, and to customers. Outline the positive consequences that will happen if she makes improvements, and the negative consequences that will happen if she doesn’t.

Finally, you need to move to action by determining who does what by when, and how you’ll follow up. I would venture a guess that if the person is unwilling or unable to make improvements, and unwilling to participant in a survey feedback process, that you should begin progressive discipline. This will help the supervisor realize why it is important to improve. The status quo should be unacceptable. The reason it is called progressive discipline is that you provide enormous clarity and feedback and provide the person with time and resources to improve. If the other person doesn’t improve, he or she should leave—the negative impact on relationships inside and outside the team and company is too severe not to act. It’s not easy, but it is essential.

Best wishes,

Al