Built Intelligence

Seven Significant Conversations by Andrea Newton

Seven Significant Conversations by Andrea Newton

1. Confident Conversations

Confident Conversations – when first promoted to any form of management or team leadership role, making that transition from mate to manager, buddy to boss, can be a steep learning curve. So many people will wobble to begin with and perhaps rely on extreme leadership styles – at one end of the spectrum relying on the “arm around the shoulder, do me a favour mate” approach and at the other end, thinking you have to have all the answers, all the solutions and tell people what they need to do and how and when and why …. When actually great leadership needs to be somewhere between the two, and we need to help newly promoted team leaders develop CONFIDENCE to have conversations, knowing when to direct and tell and when to ask and encourage, but be confident in themselves, remain assertive and engage their team confidently in achievement of goals and objectives. 

    Team Leaders may also need to have confident conversations with customers or clients, if an issue is escalated from a front line, customer facing team member, the team leader needs to be confident in handling such issues, remaining assertive, calm and in control of the situation and their own emotions as well as being confident to challenge upwards if necessary, and to stand up for their team as a decent leader would. Nobody wants to have a team leader who is walked all over and isn’t able to represent their team well, and nobody wants to have a team leader in charge who isn’t confident to say what needs to be said, whilst maintaining a positive working relationship. Confident Conversations can come in all shapes and sizes – from the confidence to represent your team at a meeting to the confidence to defend a team member if appropriate and relevant to do so, and the ability to have Confident Conversations of this nature is a really important foundation for effective leadership.

    2. Caring Conversations

    Once that foundation is firmly in place, we can then build on that confidence and encourage our leaders to have CARING conversations – which might sound relatively straightforward – letting your team know that you care about them and for them, right? Well,, actually, there is a little more to it than that!

    Boundaries for example – letting people know you care without becoming their mother or their counsellor, caring without overbearing or interfering, caring without meddling or getting too close to the issue and actually for some people, whose natural personality is perhaps more straight to the point, emotions controlled and lacking natural empathy, how do THEY let people know they care and value others if it is not naturally occurring behaviour?! 

    Caring conversations will be needed if a team member is struggling, returning from sick leave or following a bereavement, and again we need leaders who are confident enough to engage in dialogue, to say what needs to be said, but to bring the right amount of compassion, at the right time, to the right situation. Showing you care by engaging in meaningful conversation, taking time to listen and hear what is being said, remembering details and being able to connect with people – compassion is so important if people are to feel fairly treated and valued, and let’s not forget, people will only value the business if they believe the business values them! Caring goes a heck of a long way towards generating high levels of employee engagement, so let the learning begin!

    3. Challenging Conversations

    And once we start building that team, we want to make sure they are on the right track and doing a great job, and therefore we need to be able to give feedback in a way that redirects where necessary and raises the bar where there is scope to do so. Challenging Conversations can come in lots of shapes and sizes, whether challenging unsatisfactory performance to challenging inappropriate behaviour from your boss! Challenging conversations can also happen in meetings if you don’t agree with the consensus, or where your perspective is different and you need to make your case – BUT in a way that is respectful, polite, assertive and professional – so our ability to challenge as part of our leadership repertoire is important, and we need to learn to disagree in a way that encourages resourceful dialogue and solution focussed debate, remaining assertive, calm and non-emotive.

    4. Coaching Conversations

    And talking of solution focussed, a Coaching Conversation is where we are going next! We know that if someone has been engaged and involved in agreeing a solution, they are far more committed to it and more likely to achieve it. AND If you can develop your people’s skills and confidence, whilst encouraging initiative and accountability – win win eh?

    Whether you are coaching an experienced team member to achieve higher standards or engaging someone in a personal improvement or development plan, being able to use Coaching Conversations as part of your leadership repertoire will give you a massive return on your investment.  A coaching approach has many different applications, whether a simple development plan or encouraging a well being recovery plan; encouraging someone to suggest how they raise their game or helping guide them to a more confident position – coaching is an essential conversation that ALL leaders need to be able to have!

    5. Crucial Conversations

    So that is four out of our 7 significant conversations – and to be fair, we are now definitely moving towards the more skilled, sensitive and serious conversations – and we will start first with the territory that I spend the majority of my time in – Crucial Conversations. Where things need to be said that the other person may not be open to hearing, they may disagree with you, the stakes might be high, the risks scary, the consequences potentially challenging – but without Crucial Conversations organisations and managers face significant costs and risks. Crucial Conversations are about nipping things in the bud, spotting performance dips, attendance issues, attitude shifts when they happen and intervening to change the direction of travel to a more positive, productive, appropriate place. 

    Crucial Conversations tend to focus around potential disciplinary issues, misconduct, capability and can escalate to a more formal footing with policies and procedures as the framework. Crucial Conversations done well can improve results, increase standards, achieve higher performance but done badly, can lead to conflict, confrontation, grievances and even tribunals. Crucial Conversations really are! 

    We also know that often Crucial Conversations get delayed or avoided completely, which whilst very human of us to want to avoid any potential for conflict, doesn’t help the business or people within it achieve what they need to.

    Crucial Conversations can also be 360 degrees – it might be a conversation with a team member, a co-worker or colleague, even managing upwards! It might be a conversation with a supplier, contractor, customer – anyone where a more sensitive, awkward or personal issue needs attention and where emotions and perspectives can run riot. People in project management roles who perhaps don’t have line management responsibility will also benefit from learning such skills in order to manage their schedule and standards.

    6. Critical Conversations

    We know that the line manager relationship is the single biggest influence on climate and culture within that business and their communication and conversation skills will play a huge part in establishing that relationship and the trust that holds it all together, so it makes sense to help develop the skill and confidence in your leaders and managers, especially if you want to maintain a reputation as an employer of choice.

    7. Crisis Conversations

    Qualified separately as a Suicide Intervention Tutor, I also help leaders and managers have those Crisis and Critical Conversations helping them intervene in a positive and supportive way, without becoming their counsellor or therapist. If you are worried about a member of your team and recognise your duty of care towards them, you will want to do the right thing, at the right time, in the right way, without overstepping boundaries and I can help you feel more confident and capable of doing just that. The last 2 years have proven how important it is to be able to support each other during challenging times, and many organisations have taken this on board in their leadership training, thankfully! 


    7 Significant Conversations that are all underpinned by essential stepping stones, and you can find details of those essential steps in a free download on this page so please take a look and grab that free guide –

    if you are serious about being an effective, conscientious, decent leader then you will want to make sure you have the skill and confidence in this area so that your team have the clarity, development and support that they need as well as the chance for open, honest and frank dialogue with you.

    Don’t forget, conversations can change organisations, develop relationships, increase results, improve performance, even save lives and we need to get comfortable with the uncomfortable and have more conversations that matter, if we are to have a high performing, engaged workforce who are happy and well and able to deliver high standards.

    About the Author

    Andrea Newton has been helping organisations develop the skill and confidence to have Confident Conversations and get comfortable with the uncomfortable for over 22 years. She has worked across a range of industry sectors and is happiest working in a way that is practical, down to earth, direct and uncomplicated. She prefers a mug to a cup and prefers places that call a spade a shovel ... if you would like to benefit from her expertise and ability to make a room full of people comfortable with subjects as sensitive as suicide, then you can find out more about her at www.confidentconversations.co.uk or https://www.linkedin.com/in/andrea-newton-cc/

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