In a small business, having a ‘happy ship’ is vital.  There simply isn’t time for the minor spats, grudges and resentment that can so easily arise simply because someone has been misunderstood or hasn’t got their message across clearly.

Indeed research has shown that a negative interaction with someone has a real impact on productivity – it can take someone several hours to recover not just their good spirits but also their concentration after a difficult or unpleasant exchange with a colleague or their manager.

Making sure we all have better quality and more productive conversations is the theme of a report that crossed my desk this week from talent management specialists DDI.  Their proposition is that your success as a leader or manager depends largely on the dozens of conversations you have every day – not just with customers and suppliers – but also crucially with the people in your team.

So what are the ingredients for a great conversation – whether it’s a difficult discussion about performance or an attempt to get ‘buy in’ to change or win support for a new idea?

Courtesy of DDI, here are the five key principles you should aim to adopt if you want to get the best out of conversations with your team  – and the seven deadly sins you need to avoid!

Key Principles

Keep these principles front of mind when you’re talking to your team and you should be much better able to avoid difficulties, seize opportunities and make people feel appreciated, understood, involved and supported:

  • Maintain or enhance self-esteem by being specific about what people do and why their contributions matter.
  • Listen and respond with empathy, showing understanding for the facts and feelings being expressed.
  • Ask for help and encourage involvement by asking questions to unleash everyone’s ideas.
  • Share thoughts, feelings and rationale to build trust and provide context.
  • Provide support without removing responsibility to build ownership and responsibility.

Seven interaction sins

Try and avoid these common mishaps that managers – at all levels – often make when it comes to having productive conversations with their people.

  • Getting straight to fixing the problem:  Managers, who after all are often rewarded for getting things done and fixing problems, often jump too quickly to presenting a solution.  They fail to understand the context of a situation and miss opportunities to involve other parties.
  • One size fits all:  Over time, managers can develop a preferred style or approach to meetings and interactions with others.  They can be oblivious to the impact that this approach has on certain situations or people and may also struggle to take account of different perspectives.
  • Avoiding the tough issues:  Many leaders struggle to address the tough issues, particularly if they relate to poor performance.  They often lack the skills to diffuse situations or tackle ‘sensitive’ areas.  As a result, issues can be left unresolved, leading to increased tension and a situation where nothing has changed – and  indeed may even have got worse.
  • Inconsistent approaches:  Sometimes, managers apply their communication skills inconsistently.  So they may show high levels of empathy and diplomacy, for example, in situations where they are trying to influence peers and win support for an idea – but overlook the fact these skills should also be brought into play when they need to deliver a difficult message to an employee.
  • Influencing through facts only:  Too often managers, rely on logic and rationale to position an argument or point of view.  They need to embrace more subtle means to proactively build support and appeal to the specific needs and circumstances of the people they are dealing with.
  • Forgetting to involve others: Managers often recognise the need for change and identify opportunities to improve the way work is carried out – but they sometimes struggle to bring others along with them in the change process.  This is because they often oversimplify the issues and  show little appreciation for the impact of any given change, just expecting that others will jump on board.
  • Neglecting to coach in the moment.  When asked to coach their team, managers are generally pretty effective at clarifying what performance is required, having an open dialogue and offering support for future challenges. However, they often neglect to provide guidance “in the moment of need” and don’t always dig deep enough to uncover what may really be behind a performance issue.

You can get more detailed guidance from the full report ‘Driving Workplace Performance through High Quality Conversations’, which can be downloaded from the DDI website


Erika Lucas author image

Erika Lucas

Writer and Communications Consultant

Erika Lucas is a writer and communications consultant with a special interest in HR, leadership, management and personal development. Her career has spanned journalism and PR, with previous roles in regional press, BBC Radio, PR consultancy, charities and business schools.