How to have a constructive conversation

At Happiness Concierge, we run workshops on Constructive Conversations because we know that, for so many of us, the idea of giving and receiving feedback makes us uncomfortable, no matter which side of the conversation we’re on.

In fact almost half of us would rather actually leave a job than have a conversation to address a workplace issue.  As a company that wants to see you ace your work and life, this alarms us: big time. Why do so many of us find it so challenging?

It can feel daunting when we haven’t been taught how to do this or we’ve had awful experiences giving and receiving feedback in the past

So, let’s start with why we have Constructive Conversations in the first place. It’s because we:

  • Care about the other person and want to help them succeed

  • Want to help reinforce or celebrate the things they do well

  • Want to improve behaviour in the future by giving people the tools to do things differently or think about things differently

It’s safe to say that if your intention doesn’t fall within these three realms of wanting the other person to succeed, then it’s best not give feedback. After all, we want to reinforce ace behaviour and help bring awareness to unhelpful, or limiting behaviour that could be stopping your rockstar from succeeding.

So how do we actually do that?

Think back to a time when you have received feedback that made you feel good about yourself and actually supported you to make a positive change.

Chances are it was delivered with genuine care for you and interest in your development, it gave you the chance to learn in a safe and supported way and you were given the chance to respond or engage in a mutually respectful and two-way dialogue as opposed to a monologue. Ain’t nobody want to listen to a diatribe about how someone thinks we could do better. That's good and all that but: um, how exactly, can we improve? That's what we wanna focus on when giving - and recieving feedback.

Here's our handy framework we practice at Happiness Concierge with our students and internally as a company.

1. Get permission

Get the conversation off on the right foot by asking your colleague if it’s a good time to chat. Automatically they’ll be more receptive to what you have to say because you’ve already shown you care about where they’re at. A simple “do you have time for a chat”, or "can I share an observation" next time your catch up should do the trick. Alternatively, your next face to face or online check in, when it's a private 1:1.

2. Share your observation

Share your observations of the scenario that you’d like to discuss.

“I’ve noticed that you have cancelled the last few times we were meant to meet” or “Yesterday I saw that you were rolling your eyes in the meeting” or “Yesterday the we met with that client, I saw you get really excited when we talked about that campaign.”

3. Describe the impact

Now tell them how it made you feel or how it impacted you.

In the case of the eye roll, you can follow it up with something like “that made me wonder if you’re listening to what I’m saying” or in the case of the cancelled meetings you could try “I felt a bit annoyed because I had reorganised my day to fit that in.” In the case of reinforcing the positive behaviour, you might share "when I saw your enthusiasm in that meeting it made me feel confident we could pull it off and I was motivated to keep going."

4. Open for discussion

Ok, it’s critically important to give the other person a chance to respond. So many of us skip this part and wonder why our rockstars didn't get the memo. If we don’t know how the other person is seeing things, we can’t come up with a shared solution that we know will work. Making assumptions can be dangerous.

Try something like: “Is that how you saw that situation?” or “Was that your intention?” or “Did you notice that?”. Or, "what was your take?". Sometimes simply sharing an observation and .... waiting: helps the other person start opening a convo on what they experienced and what motivated the action.

The goal is not to ‘win’ the conversation, or get to a solution straight away. It is to share your observations respectfully, discuss it and land on a shared solution. That means listening to get an insight into their side of events - without ‘waiting’ for the person to finish so you can land on the solution.

5. Make a recommendation

The last piece of the process is to make a request, recommendation or suggestion and agree on a course of action forward together. If it's an easy fix, suggesting easy hacks such as: “Do you think next time you could let me know in advance”, “Would you mind if in future we agree on X,Y,Z beforehand” or “Can we agree that you’re going to do X,Y,Z before we meet with that client again?” - could work well.

Alternatively, if you're less confident it won't happen again, you might ask your rockstar to suggest a solution. "What ideas do you have?" "How might we ace this in future?" "What shall we agree on from here, do you rekon?"

It can feel daunting when we haven’t been taught how to do this or we’ve had awful experiences giving and receiving feedback in the past - but we know it can be different and we’re dedicated to supporting you to make it so.

Now get out there and start practising, with your friends, your partner or with like-minded people in the HC Slack community online (join here!).

And if you have any top tips that have worked for you in having constructive conversations in your workplace, we’d love to hear from you!