Handling well difficult conversations - People's stories
#4. I am not promoting you
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Introduction - People's stories
All People's stories are written in the 1st person to reinforce their impact.
While anonymity is preserved, all stories are inspired by real facts.
People's stories are examples, to feed you with concrete cases of how the Puzzle has been used. They are not to tell you what to think, or absolute truth: they were created with the intent to illustrate how you can transform your life with the Puzzle.
Each People’s story is presented in the following way:
Part 1. The authentic life experience
Part 2. What that same moment could have been, leveraging the Puzzle
Part 3. Decoding the story through the lens of the Puzzle framework
Part 1 - I would have loved so much to promote you, but…!!
I had one talent in my team, and he was doing great at the job! He did not have the diploma for it, but he did have plenty of other skills, and he was a fast learner. I was very happy to have him in the team, and would rely on him more and more. I would also often share feedback, so he would know too how much I valued him in the team.
One day, I was asked to take a completely different role. I had done it in a previous company, and so it was not new to me. The stake was big as I got promoted at the same time, and there was a lot of pressure to succeed in the new role. The team and I would be very exposed, and would have to interface with very senior stakeholders. And some were really not easy to handle!
For instance, they would call thinking they had a very relevant question to ask…. while I would not understand the question!! And I would have to pretend that it was an excellent question to ask, while rowing to find an answer! Plus they insisted on having a precise answer…
So I needed senior people for the team, to handle such personalities. And, also, I would have no time to train my direct reports: they had to be ready for the job. We could train people below them into the new roles, but I did not want to take the risk at a higher level.
In the meantime, the talent in my previous team had convinced himself that I would take him with me. And indeed I wanted to, but not as a direct report. I wanted to bring him in and continue to develop him. But while he was excellent in the previous role, he was not ready to both be promoted and in a job he had never done. I was not up for that - and so I needed to have the conversation with him.
I kept thinking about it, as I wanted him to be proud of what had been accomplished, and not just look at the empty glass. But I also knew he was ambitious, so I did not know how the conversation would go. And I was stressed, because for the first time ever, I would give him feedback that what he had, was not enough…
As we walked into the meeting room, I could tell he was very happy. He was so sure I would promote him! And as I explained the situation and the rationale, the smile vanished. And he tried everything to make me change my mind.
He shared he was so disappointed. That he had worked so hard to deserve that promotion.
He reminded me how happy I had been with him. How much of a quick learner he was, and that he would learn fast there again.
He told me that he really wanted to become a manager, that he never had a team. And if I was not to offer him this opportunity, then he would not stay in the current role. That the company would lose him.
He shared that it makes no sense to invest in a talent, if it is not to give him opportunities. That he was up for the challenge. That he would work really hard to make it.
It was not easy to take. I was being bombarded, and I chickened out: while I had not changed my mind, I told him I would reconsider, and let him know in a few days. I just wanted that conversation to stop!!
Two days later, he called me. He was on speaker, and while we were talking, I could hear someone in the background advising him to say this or that. That made me quite uncomfortable, and as I asked if someone else was there, he told me he was in the car with his wife, and really wanted to talk to me before the weekend. And so I had to tell him - well, them! - that he did not have the role. And the woman kept whispering to insist, to bring up this… Or, at times, he would go on mute and I suspected they were discussing what to say next. By wanting to preserve our relationship, I had put myself into trouble! The whole situation, and me not sticking to my decision in the first place,- both really annoyed me! I said nothing, but kept the conversation short. And told him my decision was definitive: he was welcome to join the team, but he would not become one of my direct reports. He was not ready yet for the role, and while he would learn quickly - he would still need my help and time, and neither of them I would have.
When I saw him back in the office, the distance was there. I did not think he had been fair putting his wife into the conversation; and he was mad at me for not promoting him. He would salute me, but the complicity we had was gone.
We never talked about it, and a few months later, he left the company. I tried to contact him afterwards, but he never really responded to me. I felt I had been used, and recognized for as long as I would give him what he wanted. But was no longer of interest, the day I stopped being useful for his career.
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Part 2 - I am not promoting you
I had an amazing talent in my team: bright, fast learner, reliable, always positive! A real asset in the team!
As I got promoted to a different role, I had to build a new team, and naturally this person was in my mind - and I was in his! For him, it was clear that I would promote him and keep him close, as I had always been so pleased with his work. And indeed I had - but this job was different. It was a lot more exposed to senior stakeholders, was a management position (while he never had had a team), and on a job he had never done before. The step was too big, plus I needed people ready around me. I wanted to keep him in the team, but he would not be a direct report.
As we met, I could tell he was really expected to be told he was promoted. And so I explained right away what the situation was, and my decision. He challenged me really hard! Indeed, in every recruitment process, there is a subjective part! This is where he was going. To convince me that my intuition was not reliable on this one decision! I listened to him and he made me doubt. To be fair to all his good work and our relationship, I decided it was worth thinking about it again.
I told him I would sleep on it, and come back to him shortly with a definitive answer. That I would consider his perspective.
I was not sure I made the right move by letting him hope I would change my mind… Because shortly after the meeting, I was just back to the same conclusion: the step was too high. So why did I not stick to my decision? Why leave the door open, while there really was no chance? I wanted to be nice, I thought.
Was it really nice to avoid saying what I think? Or was I just trying to avoid the conversation, and preserve myself? Yes, probably the latter!! Somewhere, I was afraid of how he would react if I had stuck to my decision. What could have happened? He could have shouted at me. Or he could spread some rumors about me, and damage my reputation. Or…
But was this true? Was I 100% sure he would react this way? Or was it my imagination? I was not in his head… And even if he did act this way, would I then not be able to handle his feedback? I would! But it would be really stressful!!
Was this a fair decision towards myself that I was taking? Yes! It would add too much work on me to promote this person.
And was I fair towards him with this decision? That is a matter of perspective: he probably would not agree to that!! And am I OK to live with the fact that he could disagree with my decision? Yes. I would prefer he agrees, but if not then I am at peace with myself. I do not think I would do him a favor by putting him in a job he will not be able to be good at.
He called me back to follow up on our initial conversation, and even put me on speaker with his wife next to him. I did not like it so much, but yet it comforted me that he was not ready for the role. I also had empathy. He needed support for what felt like a really big conversation. And so I decided not to bring up that the situation was awkward.
He never accepted my decision, and our relationship got severely impacted. He decided to stay in his current role, left the company a few months later and has not spoken to me since. I do not regret the decision I took: I hope he understands one day, and contacts me back!
Part 3 - The Puzzle decoder
Let's decode this People's story with the lens of the Puzzle pieces.
It is not easy to be faithful to myself. Between politics, wanting to please people I like - I can easily lose myself! This usually leads me to being in impossible situations. Situations that suit people around me, but that may not suit me.
It is OK and normal to accommodate and do things for others - just that the magnitude and the effort required cannot be too much. This is where I need to remember who I am, and ensure that the cost of pleasing others is not too high. And that I also get the same in return, as I too deserve it!
The little voice in my head - my Ego - often whispers what the others are thinking about me, as I act a certain way. And while it might be true, this is happening in my head: I am not in the head of the other person. I do not know for sure. All I can do is be present and observe carefully the reactions, ask questions, listen with an open mind and respond in a way that feels right to me.
As I connect to myself, I am making sure that I am aligned and at ease with how the situation is going.
I can also prepare myself before the meeting. If I am afraid of how the meeting could go, or not sure I will be able to cope with what I will hear - then I can make time before the meeting to relax. Make the time to be in a quiet bubble for a few minutes, or do something I like. Listen to a song I enjoy, go for a little walk, eat or drink something and savor it, etc. My body will keep these feelings at the back of my mind: I will start the meeting less stressed, and I will carry these calm feelings with me - as a way to mitigate the stress, as they will feed my filter, side to my Ego.
It will provide more options for me to act, rather than solely follow my Ego and react strongly to the conversation.
When I have a difficult conversation, it matters to be at ease with the consequences of it. What could happen if we disagree? And am I willing to live with this worst case? Or else, what are my limits?
Knowing what my boundaries are, and how far I am willing to go - will help channel the conversation and increase my comfort zone.
The yellow brick road in a difficult conversation is also to protect myself. I do not have to listen to anything just to preserve peace. I can step up at times, and draw the line of what is acceptable. My Ego will help me then, and fuel me with the courage to take good care of myself.
I can anticipate that difficult conversations will be …difficult! Or I can also walk in with the mindset that there is a solution to anything! Typically, I can notice around me many people arguing, even on TV or at the radio. Or I can witness people with different opinions being able to exchange perspectives. They may not agree, but they are dialoguing!
I notice what I believe in, and that also influences how I am when I walk into the room. If I am convinced this will end up into a fight, there is little chance that I will lead the conversation in a different direction. It might not be what I desire, but I will pick what I trust is correct - unless I am aware of my bias, and actively change it.
In a difficult conversation, the uncertainty is with how the other person will react. It is also with how I will be able to cope with their feedback. Maybe they will hurt me with what they say? And yet, no one has the power to hurt me. I only can, by integrating what is being said and putting some thoughts into it that do not do me good. And if I am the one doing it, then I am also the one who can undo it.
With the Puzzle in hand, I have all the tips I need to get the ideas that make me uncomfortable, out of my head. I can choose how I will live the conversation, or get over it afterwards. I have the resources available to build a strong mind, and to live well.