The three toughest conversations you’ll ever have

by MPA20 Oct 2014
Behavioral scientist Darren Hill, writing in our sister title Canadian Mortgage Professional explains how to handle the tough conversations which could potentially derail your brokerage.
1. You no longer have a job:
It’s an unpleasant truth that over the course of your broking career you may bring in staff that just don’t fit, and letting go of these staff members is a painful experience for all involved. According to Hill, when it comes to dismissal or restructure conversations, don’t even attempt to remove emotion from the discussion. “There will be emotion and you will have to deal with it. Recognize that tears and sadness are okay but tread carefully with sympathy versus empathy,” he advises.

“Statements such as, ‘it looks like you are really upset’ are helpful while ‘I’m sorry this is happening to you’ sends the message ‘I’m glad it’s you and not me’.” He adds that it’s vital to always remember to keep the tone and volume of your voice lower than that of the person you're letting go. “If it does get heated voices can be raised. Never be tempted to match the escalation. People do not usually shout for very long if the other party doesn’t reciprocate, as it makes them feel uncomfortable,” he explains.

Hill’s final piece of advice for dealing with this difficult conversation is that the social rule of direct eye contact is dangerous. “Although we’re taught to look someone in the eye, this is the most personal communication medium and the person on the receiving end often has no choice but to take the message personally,” he says. “Share an independent visual medium such as some written notes to help you talk about ‘it’ – the restructure or termination – instead of ‘you’.”
2. I don’t like your attitude:
This is what Hill describes at the ‘awkward personality conversation’. And in this instance he says that it’s vital to avoid making classic ‘priming statements’ such as ‘I don’t want you to take this the wrong way’. "Now the person is on the lookout for a way to ‘take it the wrong way.’ Always prime the person towards the successful outcome, such as ‘I need us to both be on the same page’,” explains Hill.

It’s also important to avoid naming your staff member’s unhelpful traits, he says. Phrases such as ‘I want to talk about you being arrogant’, for example, are a definite no-no. “I can guarantee this conversation will head south, fast,” says Hill. “Take the unhelpful trait and find a strength – cynical becomes realistic and interfering becomes inquisitive. This paints a different picture yet remains on topic.”

Returning to the arrogance example, he suggests attacking it in the following way: “One of your strengths is that you’re a confident guy, but there are times when your confidence can be a little overwhelming or misplaced. Let me give you an example...”
3. Your work is just not good enough:
Broking is a high-pressure job where performance is constantly under scrutiny. But how do you tell your team to buck up their ideas? Here are Hill’s tips for taking on what he calls the ‘underperformance’ conversation: “One of the biggest mistakes people make is to focus on ‘traits’ instead of ‘behaviors’,” he says. He explains that, firstly, confusion occurs because the definition of a certain trait varies from person to person. “I may consider dedication as taking on extra tasks while you might interpret this as more thoroughness in your projects,” he says.

Secondly, be aware that traits are often enduring patterns. “Thinking you can change them in a half hour conversation is ambitious. Don’t tell someone they ‘lack initiative’,” says Hill. “Highlight that they rarely put their hand up to lead projects and you will have a much higher chance of success.”

Darren Hill is the co-founder of Pragmatic Thinking, a behavior and motivation strategy company. Read his original article here.