A short time ago I was working with an agile coach. He was quite experienced and well known in the agile community. He also held a wide variety of certifications.
We were working together on a project that had, if I were to be honest, quite a few cultural and organizational challenges.
There was one specific individual who always seemed to be the most challenging. My coaching colleague and I were talking about them one day and he was grousing (complaining) about them to me.
After awhile, I asked him if and how he’d approached the situation with the individual. I was looking for a powerful reply where he used the situation to further his coaching relationship with the individual and had a heart-to-heart conversation.
His response though was quite different. He said:
I didn’t mention it at all. Frankly, I didn’t have the energy to have a meaningful coaching conversation, so I basically affirmed his behavior, agreed with him, and moved on.
I responded with an “Oh…” and our conversation moved on. He continued to complain about them for a few more minutes and then we went to lunch.
Stuck with me
This conversation has stuck with me ever since.
First of all, I was disappointed in my colleague. I mean the very essence of his job at the time was to have the energy to have just these sorts of conversations.
Not only was it his job, but he also had the certifications, experience, and reputation of someone who could and should have these sorts of conversations. Point being – there were no real excuses for not doing so.
But it did make me think. I began to realize that we all make situational choices every day about how, when, if and for how long we’ll engage in “coaching conversations”.
But we have to make choices…
What are some of the factors that come into play in our interactions?
- Energy – I’ll start with this one, how much energy will we have to expend to initiate and sustain the conversation?
- Before – Have we had the conversation before? How many times? And do we think this moment might be different?
- Role – Am I in a role that should be initiating this conversation? Is it my job or have I been retained to move things AND this conversation is an opportunity to do just that?
- Timing – Is it the right locale and timing to have a meaningful conversation? It might be better to wait till later in the day for a private moment to resurface the feedback.
- Skill – Certainly comes into play. Do I think I have the skill and experience to have a meaningful and potentially positive coaching conversation? Perhaps someone else who is more skilled should do it?
- Time – Do I have the time right now for it? I think this couples with “energy” above.
- Relationship – What is our relationship to the individual? Do we know them well, so-so, or not at all? Also, history comes into play here as well.
- Receptivity – How well do we think the individual will receive the message or conversation? Sometimes even body language or intangibles (dress) will influence us here.
I’m sure more than one of these came into play in the mind of my colleague before he chose to bypass the conversation. And to some degree, that’s fair.
I believe one of my strengths, as a leader and coach, is to usually DECIDE to have these conversations over deferring them.
I’m sort of pit-bullish that way. I don’t shy away from the “hard stuff”. Now sometimes, every once in awhile, I regret this trait. Thinking later that I should have deferred, punted, or in some way ignored the situation and hoped for the best.
Usually these are when the coaching conversations take a lot of time & energy with marginal to unknown outcomes.
And I don’t have the conversation and simply walk away. I’ve always felt that feedback needs to be “verified” after it's been received to see if folks are actually interpreting your feedback properly AND taking appropriate corrective action.
Here’s a link to a related post on giving feedback that explores this notion a bit more:
I’ve always felt a bit of professional responsibility for these conversations as well. And I think they’re an incredibly important part of influencing and building a culture.
Wrapping Up…And I know what you’re thinking?
I’ll bet I know what you all are thinking:
Did I round up the energy to have this discussion with my colleague? The answer is... embarrassingly no.
I decided that it wouldn’t really do any good and that he didn’t really want to hear it. So my decision was based on time, energy, and receptivity. It was also based on the intersection of my role and his. We were both independent coaches in the organization, so I felt he should have been more self-aware.
All of that being said though, to this day I feel it was a cop-out on my part. Someone should have “called him” on his responsibility to always have the hard conversations OR move onto another role or company. And if I’m confronted with that situation again, I will have that conversation.
When you’re a coach, or a leader, it’s your job. No matter the reasonable or unreasonable reasons (excuses) you come up with for not having the conversation.
Stay agile my friends,
I allude to it in one of the headings, but I believe a wonderful book that aligns with this topic is Crucial Conversations. I would highly recommend your reading it and it’s related follow-on works.