Recently I saw a very angry executive going head to head with a young direct report in one of those gold fish offices that leave little to the imagination.

Although their words were muffled there was little doubt who the boss was, who was in charge of the conversation and who would have the last word. I wondered if those near and dear to the executive would have been proud to see her management style or how her direct report viewed her skills.

Technical mistakes made by our staff can be VERY public. A small careless error can be viewed by perhaps hundreds of thousands of customers and waste thousands of dollars. Mistakes can be not only embarrassing but have political and legal ramifications.

And subtly but very powerfully, errors of execution can unfairly sway research results, public opinion, social views. Especially in marketing, what we do, is in the public domain and seen by many. The responsibility to get it right is paramount.

When things go wrong and emotions are raised, how easily we are seduced into having conversations of war, to take the high ground and win at any cost. But are we having the right conversations to bring about the best outcomes in those we lead?

The opposite extreme is the executive who hides his/her growing frustration with staff non compliance, poor delivery, and skill ineptitude, complaining to everyone but the staff member. Why? Often because of a reluctance and inability to deal with the conflict.

As business leaders we are also leaders of people and I believe we have a responsibility to find the best outcome for both the organization and our teams. This outcome is rarely found in conversations of war or games of hide and seek. I truly believe our staff deserves much more from us and so do our peers.

So are we having the right conversations to get the best results? I fear not.

Wise people tell us that when emotions come into play in the workplace it’s a sure signpost to take stock, stop and question what’s really going on. It’s time to change the conversation.

Changing the conversation does not mean avoiding the topic. It simply challenges us to look a little deeper at what is really causing the problem instead of focusing on the content.

And when we look deeper, we may begin to see the processes that are causing the problems that make us so angry. Addressing processes is a VERY different conversation to a conversation of war or hide and seek. It’s a conversation about what’s causing the problems, understanding the existing rules and regulations that are hindering instead of assisting our staff do and be the best they can.

How often do we see things go off the rails because the call centre was uninformed, poorly trained or the mail house sent the wrong collateral? How often are advertisements or brochures printed with errors because of poor QA processes? How often are our web sites giving out-of-date information, or we mail deceased clients? Let’s face it - errors will always occur but more often than not, the cause can be found in our own failure to ensure the processes were created and managed well.

Conversations to understand and improve processes contain constructive questions, not angry incriminations. They invite ideas and feedback, not defensive explanations.

This is the conversation a manager as coach seeks.

And when we look deeper still, and if we are very courageous, we may begin to see the relationship issues that are causing the problems that make us so angry. And acknowledging addressing our relationships with our team members is a VERY different conversation. It’s a conversation about “I’ve noticed that you and I don’t seem to be speaking the same language these days. Why is that?” It’s a conversation about “I feel you don’t respect my judgment the way you used to. Is that so? “It’s a conversation about “I feel that I can’t rely on you the way I used to because of your performance lately and that’s really disappointing. What’s driving that?”

What would it be like for a manager who been evading questions and hiding poor results to be privately talked to about trust and honesty rather than demands and threats?

Or the fast track, gung ho web master who was making web decisions beyond their authority to be spoken to about respect for others judgments and knowledge?

Or the disinterested assistant to be spoken to about reliability and unused potential?

“Oh too soft” or perhaps “too hard a conversation to have?” “We’re not their mothers”. True enough. But if we are honest, every one of us knows that the people we would go to the ends of the earth for are NOT those who lost control of their emotions or hid their truth from us. It was those who took us aside and spoke honestly and directly one-on-one about what they really saw, what they felt about us and invited us to deliver to our higher potential.

In the long run, choosing to have the right conversation will reap the best results for the organization, your own department and get the best performance from those we lead. That’s what you as a manager and coach for your team can offer. And isn’t that what we really wanted all along?

Author's Bio: 

Juliette Robertson is an Executive Coach offering webinar based Coach Training for new managers in "How to Coach Your Staff. Her 7 module coach training is globally accessible on-line and perfect for busy new managers who want the benefits of e-learning and access to qualified coaching tutors to help fast track their coaching skills.

To register for 60 minutes of free webinar based Coach Training, visit

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