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Career Conversations: It’s All About Becoming Unbalanced

Supporting employee development.
Learning about others.
Exploring options and possibilities for growth.

What do all of these conversations have in common? To be effective, they require you to become completely unbalanced. I’m not suggesting developing vertigo or psychological problems… quite the opposite. What I am suggesting is a different – more effective – approach to talking with others.

An effective career conversation is completely unbalanced in favor of the employee. If you do your job well, they will be doing 90% of the talking.  If you’re talking more than that, you’re likely taking on too much responsibility for their development and robbing them of ownership of their careers.

So, how do you – as a leader – make career conversations completely unbalanced?  There are three key skills:

Ask juicy questions.
The beauty of this unbalanced approach is that as a manager, you don’t have to worry about having all – or really any – of the answers.  What you need to bring to the table are questions.  Good, juicy, insightful, thought-provoking questions.  Questions that make employees squint up their eyes a little bit, look off in the distance, and really ponder.  While coming up with these sorts of questions comes easily to some, most of us need to spend a moment – and really that’s all we’re talking about – to consider what you’re trying to find out and how best to get it.  It’s OK to ask hard, provocative questions.  In fact, it’s these juicy questions that fuel the most productive and unbalanced career conversations.

Make silence your friend.
If you’re asking the right questions, you’re going to be making people think. They will be digging through their experiences, making connections, and reflecting deeply on who they are and what they do.  This might take more than a nano-second.  But managers – whether  motivated by the press of other priorities or out of a genuine desire not to make others uncomfortable – often don’t allow more than a nano-second for others to respond before they jump in with their own responses or more questions. Just slow it down. Give employees the space and silence to consider the question and formulate a thoughtful response.  You’ll realize a rich return on your investment of a couple of seconds.

Prove that you’re listening.
I’m not referring to all of the nodding, smiling, ‘uh huhs’ and ‘tell me mores’.  (We know you attended active listening training.) What may be more important than what you do during the conversation is what you do afterward. Many employees have been conditioned to expect career conversations to go nowhere.  So surprise them by actually using what you’ve learned.  Make notes after even the most informal of career conversations using whatever system makes sense to you. Routinely glance at those notes and find ways to reference them – in your feedback, as you give assignments, or just in general.

These reminders powerfully refocus employees on their development… and open the door to more unbalanced conversations.

So, does this notion strike you as wonderful or wobbly?  Bring some balance to the conversation with your comments.

The enhanced ebook version of Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go offers more on this topic through a series of embedded video clips.

This article was originally posted by my friend Jesse Stoner on her wonderful blog, where you’ll find wisdom and insights from a genuine thought leader.

Image: Freedigitalphotos.net

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