key conversations

Summer 2017

Meet Karl, HR Director of Professional Development, and his firm’s fast-track program for high-potential team leaders. He seems to have a “sixth sense” about when these promising new leaders could use some guidance.

Karl heard rumblings about Trevor, a recent hire who is consistently late. Karl has asked Trevor’s manager Anna, from the fast-track group to meet with him.

Let’s listen in:

“Hi Anna, thank you for meeting on such short notice. Apparently, Trevor constantly shows up late, make that very late, and the rest of the team is super annoyed. We do need to talk about this.”

Anna’s body language shows her anxiety; “I know, Karl. Trevor has a really long commute.”

“That’s an important insight, Anna, I hadn’t thought about that.”

Anna appears to become more stressed; “I’m trying to take on some extra work to meet deadlines.”

“This sounds very important to you. I need your help to understand why you’re taking on Trevor’s work?”

Anna starts to ramble; “I had a huge blowup with him and I don’t think I handled it well because I told him, that an idea he had for a keynote would never work and that we already tried it and it was a disaster and that I had a sinking feeling about working with him and then he said he wanted to try it and I told him his ideas need a lot of work. And there’s more. I had my rant in front of the team.”

Very calmly, Karl responds, “I appreciate your honesty. What do you think might work?”

Anna is clearly distraught, “I’m not sure. I’d really like to hear what you have to say.”

Karl suggests an action plan…

10 minutes later
Anna sends Trevor an email message:
Hi Trevor,
Please confirm to meet in the staff lounge at 11 for a quick discussion about a project that’s just developed.
Thank you,

11:00 am staff lounge
Anna is focused on trying to calm herself with a breathing exercise as Trevor approaches:
“Hi Trevor, before we talk about the project I realize I totally messed up and was rude and offensive about your keynote ideas. It’s okay if we don’t see eye to eye although I shouldn’t shoot down your ideas and in front of everyone.”

“I don’t get it Anna. The day before you said you liked my idea and then you went ballistic.”

“I know Trev, I mean Trevor. The thing is, I think your ideas are great. You were late for the meeting and I was frustrated and everyone was annoyed you weren’t there and I just had to do something.”

“I was only 10 minutes late!”

“Here’s the inconvenient truth, Trevor. You’re always late and it makes people crazy. I explained to Karl that you have a really long commute and…”


“ Yes, and Karl…”

“Hey Anna, you came to my defense with the big guy?”

“For sure. The thing is, Trevor, punctuality is a really big deal. Not just here, everywhere.”

“Okay, Anna. Two things. One, I found an apartment that’s very close, maybe half an hour away. And two, you can call me Trev.”

“Awesome Trevor, I mean Trev. It’s time we got together to make it happen. Now Trev, let’s talk about our exciting new project.”


Karl conducted a challenging conversation with Anna using direct statements, not interrogative questioning, to encourage Anna’s candid responses.

1. Karl made the conversation about ‘we’ instead of ‘me:’
“We do need to talk about this:”
“That’s an important insight….”

2. He established mutual purpose and respect:
“This sounds very important to you. I need your help to understand why you’re taking on Trevor’s work?”

3. He stuck to the facts:
“I appreciate your honesty.”

4. He was sincerely curious:
“What do you think might work?”

Anna really benefited from Karl’s approach and role-model-mentoring.
5. She was present and in-the-moment when she asked her boss for his input:
“I’d really like to hear what you have to say.”

6. During her meeting with Trevor, right from the beginning, she established mutual respect and purpose with two statements:
“It’s okay if we don’t see eye to eye.”
“I think your ideas are great.”

7. And finally, she closed with a decision:
“It’s time we got together to make it happen.”