By Gerry Murray. 04-10-2020
(Scroll down for a laugh)

"It was impossible to get a conversation going, everybody was talking too much." ~ Yogi Berra

On Friday I had the privilege of speaking at this year’s Project Management Institute’s annual Fair. A big shout out to Brian Thumwood, a reader of this weekly post, for inviting me again! Brian is passionate about project management and in recent years has also introduced me to many interesting podcasts. 

Projects have become a way of life for most people today. If you’re not a formal project manager then you’re often seconded onto a project team either for a period of time or as an additional responsibility to your current role. Or, as a consultant or independent worker, you’re often making your living from delivering projects. 

My topic was “Conversations that make a difference”. Therefore, I thought I’d share a few nuggets with you based on my own experiences and my research into the topic. 

Six Important Conversations

Conversation is a big word and it can be helpful to break it down into more manageable chunks as not every conversation is the same. So, here are six important conversations that probably should be taking place in your workplace. 

1 Social – the human touch

It seems obvious but then again the obvious is not always so obvious! Work can be serious stuff. However, we’re all human and having a human connection is essential to get us through the tougher times

This doesn’t mean bearing your soul to your colleagues. However, your ability to have this conversation will form the foundation of your Emotional Intelligence and Empathy when these are required. All teams should have these conversations when they are formed and when new members join. And, in fact, on a regular basis thereafter. 

2 Setting Expectations – the baseline conversation

As a manager, this is about clearly setting out your expectations for your team members. However, responsibility cuts both ways. Some managers don’t have the skills to set clear expectations! Therefore, as one of their team members, you may actually need to do this for them. This is not just about saying I expect you to do X. You need two other factors: 

  • How will successfully meeting an expectation be measured.? 
  • And, what difference will this make to the team member and the organisation? 

Measurement can then mostly be done by the person tasked with the performance. Understanding the difference that meeting an expectation makes, provides meaning and motivation

3 Assessing Progress – feedback on performance

Feedback should be an ongoing process. It should cover the good, the bad and the ugly. Too often the statement “Let me give you some feedback” is heard as “Let me criticise you”. It instils fear and resentment, kills discretionary effort and demotivates. 

Great leaders can deliver feedback in a way that is motivating for those receiving it, even if it’s tough.

4 Developing People – encouraging learning and autonomy

In our Engagement Assessment tools, wanting development is often the top expectation of employees. It’s a profound source of intrinsic motivation and outweighs pay in importance for many people. This is about stretching a person with new challenges that enable them to grow and expand their range of potential. It can give a person a great sense of direction in their life and career. 

Indeed, a pre-disposition for continuous learning is likely to be a much sought after trait in the employee of the future. 

5 Celebration – acknowledging high performance and success

Believe it or not, this conversation can often be overlooked. When a project ends or reaches an important milestone, this is an opportunity to get together and discuss what went well, what lessons were learned, what difference the completion of this project or stage makes to you and your organisation. 

And, celebrate!

6 Resolving Conflict – addressing issues early to ensure a healthy work environment

There are mixed views on conflict. However, most would agree that some degree of conflict is healthy. It can be an essential part of creativity and innovation. People often clash because they care deeply. However, there are other types of conflict that can turn toxic and seriously impact performance for a group of people. It’s important to have the skills to deal with this early. 

It probably goes without saying that when you are successfully having conversations 1-5 you’re probably going to reduce the number of conversation 6 that you’ll have. 

If you’re a manager then you probably should master these six conversations. If you’re a (frustrated) team member, perhaps you can get your manager to sign up for this weekly post. Or, simply share this with them. 

Oh, and let me know if you need any help or support…



My colleague said, “You aren't even listening to me, are you?"
That's a weird way to start a conversation

Conversation between a couple during the stay-at-home period.
Man: Would you like anything to eat for dinner?
Woman: What are my choices?
Man: “Yes” or “No”.

A teenage boy is about to go on his first date, is worried about keeping the conversation flowing, and asks his older brother's advice
His older brother tells him to remember the 3 F's: Family, Food, and Filosophy; and to ask questions about them.
On their date, there is a lull in the conversation and the boy decides to heed his brother's advice. He asks, "Do you have a brother?"
"No," the girl replies.
"Ah, well, do you like asparagus?"
"No," she replies again.
Losing composure, the boy asks, "Well, if you had a brother, would he like asparagus?”

The Pope is having a conversation with Aliens from Mars.
Pope: "Do you know Jesus?" 
Alien: "Oh, Jesus. Great guy. He comes to our planet twice every year." 
Pope: "Every year?! It's about two millennia and we're still waiting for his second coming."
Alien: "Maybe he didn't like your chocolate."
Pope: "Chocolate?" 
Alien: "Every time he visits, we gather the best chocolates from each manufacturing plant and give them to him before he leaves. Why, what did you do the first time he visited you?"

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