Matt Dale uses specific strategies to ease the pain of awkward conversations – from both sides…
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Charlotte Ward 0:13
Hello, and welcome to Episode 14 of the Customer Support Leaders podcast. I’m Charlotte Ward. The theme for this week is awkward conversations. So stay tuned for five leaders talking about that very topic. Today I’d like to welcome back my good friend Matt Dale. The topic for this week is awkward conversations, which
Matt Dale 0:42
Kind of like this, huh? Oh, wait, no, just kidding!
Charlotte Ward 0:44
…and how you deal with them. Actually, that’s really the key to this is how do you approach awkward conversations?
Matt Dale 0:52
They’re just painful. And I think as human beings like we tend to shy away from situations where we’re uncomfortable. So from an advice perspective, that’s I would say, kind of steer into the skid, right? Like, there’s this nasty thing you got to do, you need to do it and you need to do it in a compassionate manner, you need to do it in a way that allows the person to learn and to be successful in applying whatever you’re asking them to do. But you need to, you need to kind of gear up and say, yeah, I’m going to do this and then do it. You know, number one, make sure that you’re doing it in an appropriate setting. So if there’s a challenge that you’re having with someone, you don’t want to have that conversation out in the middle of the open floor in the office or in a meeting with a bunch of other people. Give them an opportunity to, to save face and do it in a do it. Just a safe environment. I think, you know, number two, I think being very direct, that that’s important. It’s very easy to say, kind of be a little wishy-washy and skirt around the idea and go away from it and feel like hey, I really communicated what I wanted to, but then you see the same behaviour happen. If you’re not direct with the person if you’re not giving them a clear example of Hey, when this happens when I saw you do this, that’s a problem. And here’s why. If you leave the conversation and you haven’t actually said what you need say that that’s a problem.
Charlotte Ward 2:02
How do you ensure that you’ve been understood, then?
Matt Dale 2:05
There’s a couple different things that I try to think about, again, prior to the conversation, I, you know, make a list of a couple bullet points, like, here’s the behaviour that I’m trying to accomplish. here’s, here’s an example of it, and then maybe even do a little bit of role-playing again, if it’s my direct reports, and they’re having a conversation, hey, let’s do this. I’ll be the person you’re having the conversation with and let’s, let’s play it out. If I’m having a conversation with someone, again, I’ll usually kind of go on a walk or give myself some space to think before I, you know, move into it so that I know, this is exactly what I’m trying to say. I’m able to be clear and candid with them. As they leave you, it’ll typically be a Hey, does this make sense? What did you hear me say and having them if they can you repeat back to me, Hey, this is what this is what’s expected. In some cases, you know, HR, you want to have a follow-up email. Hey, we’re documenting this and we need to do something like that. In those cases, I’ll often write the email before I even have the meeting or won’t put a name of the two to field because you don’t want to actually accidentally send it, but having the text written out is super helpful because then you can, you know, this is what I want them to say it doesn’t want them to get from it. The last little bit to that I think is really important is afterwards, I try to schedule some time afterwards that I can have a little bit of space and collect my thoughts so that, you know, you can kind of recover emotionally so that eat because you don’t want to have a heavy conversation followed by, you know, an hour-long meeting that you’ve got to be a leader, you’ve got to be up you need to have a little bit of space to kind of process what happened and you know, did I do? Did I do things right to communicate what I needed to communicate that I was acting humanely? Then having that space afterwards is a good idea.
Charlotte Ward 3:37
That’s really interesting. I would never I think a lot of a lot of the conversations I’ve had about awkward conversations, none of which I’m pleased to say have been awkward conversations themselves. Then, you do always think of it as a something that I’m delivering, you know, and once that’s done, it’s done and your part is done. I hadn’t really thought even though obviously there is fallout on both sides of that conversation whether you have the advance knowledge of the one who’s prepped all of the information and is ultimately delivering that that news or asking for that behaviour change or whatever it is it It is, it is a two-way process.
Matt Dale 4:15
The hardest part of the hardest things that we get to do is those awkward conversations, especially ones that relate to someone’s employment, you have to take those seriously and I think is you know, if you’re a normal, caring human being, you’re not going to feel good about Wow, I had to I’d reprimand someone, I had to, I had to correct their coursework. Holy cow, this is something that’s going to result in someone’s termination and, and I think that has an effect, right, like you’re going to be kind of in a jumble again, it’s, it’s nothing to say they’re having a lot worse of the day than you are but being able to have a little bit of space and give yourself breathing room will then allow you to come back to your next task or your next, you know, interaction with someone and be fully present.
Charlotte Ward 4:52
I certainly don’t wish to give the impression that I’m fine after any of those awkward conversations. I don’t need any of that time. It’s just more that I think I hadn’t really had that pointed out to me because I’ve had those awkward conversations and experienced those feelings, whatever they are. But I hadn’t actually taken the effort to allow myself time to process them. As you say, as a leader, you’re just kind of right. Well, that’s, you know, I’ve got three minutes to my next meeting, I’m going to go and grab a drink and go to the bathroom, right? Get back and then, and then suddenly, suddenly, you’re talking about, you know, customer experience or something.
Matt Dale 5:27
Or maybe you got your next, you know, like, for example, we did a series of focal reviews, all of our annual reviews happen at the same time. And the first time we did that we had a week to do, I had a week to do everybody on my team, we had more than 40 people in the team. And if you figure that normal, 40 Hour Work Week, that’s basically back to back meetings where you’re dealing with some stuff where in some cases, it’s really good news and you’re able to say, Hey, we’re really proud of your performance. There’s a lot of good stuff going on here. Here’s a raise, have a nice day. In other cases, it’s like, wow, this person’s not going to get what they’re expecting. And as a result, you know, they’re not getting the raise that they think and they may even be getting some news that you know, is really going to hit him hard. And so in that sort of situation, like I didn’t have time in between to have the breathers, but I did try to schedule things so that you know, right before the lunch break, or right before the end of the day, I would kind of put the gnarlier one so that I could have the conversation maybe even a little extra time afterwards if the person needed to think it through to process it with me. But then also get a little bit of space before coming into the next one that was going to be a little bit easier. So you just kind of have to use whatever strategy you can to make sure that you’re in the best frame of mind so you can deliver the kind of news that you need to and treat people with compassion.
Charlotte Ward 6:37
That’s it for today. Go to customersupportleaders.com/14 for the show notes, and I’ll see you next time.
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