Find Your Conversations



There is so much to get done today. And, in the middle of your rushed morning where the line for coffee was too long, you just remembered that project you needed to finish by the end of the week (yikes!) and there is that lingering feeling that you should debrief with your direct report about her presentation to the Executive team and her career goals with her recent promotion.

With two very different topics to cover and a time crunch – how do you not lose the conversation?

We asked three expert Coaches, with over 50 years of combined experience coaching Middle Managers and Executives what their most effective strategies are on how to have more meaningful and effective conversations with direct reports. Let’s meet these Coaches and see what they have to say!


Now, for the good stuff!


 Mary: So, what is a “meaningful “conversation? I believe that a meaningful conversation will differ from one person to another, depending upon their situation, values, and perspective on the issue or opportunity. What is common is that a meaningful conversation creates a feeling of being heard and respected, motivates the person to take action (which might be a new and/or courageous activity), acknowledges and reinforces values, and overall results in a feeling of fulfillment and energy. This is a “two-way conversation” where both parties contribute, listen, and co-create what needs to happen.


Scott: One comment related to effective communication techniques is the importance of first being clear in your own mind and then articulating to the recipient the purpose of the communication, e.g. is the intention of the communication to positively reinforce desirable behavior or is it to provide constructive feedback to modify/improve undesirable behavior? It is critical that those two different types of messages not be combined during the same conversation because it diminishes the impact in both directions, diluting the motivational benefits of positive feedback and undermining the importance of required behavior change. Further, it puts at risk the perception of others regarding your managerial courage and your ability to have difficult conversations when required.


Karen: I have often recommended that the Managers ensure that they schedule 1:1’s with each member of their team to talk about their career interests and personal drivers/motivation (i.e., what’s important to them personally). Sometimes Managers make assumptions without taking the time to have a more meaningful conversation with each person. This process also helps to build the direct report’s trust with the Manager.

To prepare for the conversation, I will sometimes suggest that Managers track their time for a week or two. This helps them to gain a clearer understanding of how they spend their time – and thus, consider what they might be able to delegate to members of their team.


Mary: A strategy that Managers find effective is to use open-ended questions in their conversations that begin with “What” or “How” rather than with “Why“. What is the difference? The “Why” question causes people to analyze, explain and defend their position because the “rational left brain” has been engaged. Questions that begin with “What” or “How” engage the right brain and enable people to consider broader and more creative possibilities as well as the bigger picture. From here there is a greater willingness to explore what is needed going forward rather than defend a current position.

Thanks for your insights on conversations Mary, Scott, and Karen!

So, how do you find your conversation today?

Take a Break


We’re writing from the U.S.- finishing up the last few work minutes prior to a long weekend.

Are you debating on if you should use your holiday to get a head start on a project or catch up on some emails?  According to FastCompany’s Lisa Evans and serial entrepreneur John Roa in the article “Why Taking A Vacation Can Make You Better at Your Job” – you should probably think again.

It looks like we’re not alone in the ‘work-or-not-to-work’ question – “A 2014 Oxford Economics Assessment of Paid Time Off in the U.S. showed 42% of employees with paid time off finished the year with unused days, leaving an average of 8.1 days unused”.

Why is it important to take time off?

Getting out of the norm can pull your thinking out of a rut by (literally) taking you out of the office. Vacation can push you out of your comfort zone and give fresh perspective once back in the office. It can inspire – help us think differently and have a different perspective on our day-to-day interactions (both at work, and at home).

Just like taking a lunch break is definitely a good idea, time away from the office can help our brains recuperate, refresh our attention, and make us more creative than if we had not.

Our recommendation? Take a break.

Helpful Feedback


Giving feedback is tricky business.

According to, feedback has 2 distinct definitions:

Helpful information or criticism that is given to someone to say what can be done to improve a performance, product, etc.


An annoying and unwanted sound caused by signals being returned to an electronic sound system

Ever given feedback that fit the second definition more closely than the first? You aren’t the only one. In the article, “How to Give Effective Feedback, Both Positive and Negative“, Alina Tugend from the New York Times looks at the many ways feedback can be misinterpreted, misused, and how to give it correctly.

Instead of a ‘praise sandwich’- sandwiching the bad stuff between two areas that are going well- feedback needs to be, “precise and timely enough so that it’s helpful but neutral enough so that it’s not perceived as harshly critical”.  

To take some of the scary out of giving feedback, Alina suggests to think of feedback from a different lens, “If we look at feedback as an opportunity to make someone work better rather than feel better, we’re more likely to do it successfully”.

Where do you struggle when giving feedback? What have you found helpful when giving feedback?


Manage it – and your stress


Stress has become an inevitable part of being a Middle Manager. How do you manage both your workload AND your stress?

In the Forbes article, 12 Ways to Eliminate Stress in the Workplace, the PhD Business Psychologist and author of  Success Under Stress Sharon Melnick shares a few methods to work through, and succeed through, stress. By owning the aspects of the situation you can control (and not focusing on the 50% you can’t), trying some yoga-ish breathing techniques, and looking at (and more purposely dealing with) the daily interruptions of urgent emails or texts, you can stay steadily focused and less stressed throughout the day.

Have you tried some of these, or similar techniques, to manage your workplace stress? Which work for you?

To Done List

To Done List


What. a. week.

Deadlines loomed, projects were knocked out of the park, timelines were met (or stretched). And inevitably/happily/exhaustedly, Friday afternoon has arrived.

I’ve always found it fascinating what one remembers about the week on a Friday afternoon.

Try it – take the next 3 minutes to pause and think about your week.

Where were you successful?

What did you learn?

How can next week be even better?

Now – write it down, scribble in your notebook, flowchart in your favorite app – whatever works to get it out. The more concrete you can be, the better. It’s kind of like the opposite of a ‘To Do’ list.

A ‘To Done’ list, perhaps?

Try this for a few weeks- you’ll be amazed at what trends you’ll find out about yourself, your work habits, and your life.


Have you ever compiled a ‘To Done’ list or something similar before? Discover anything that surprised you?