Get Real: Take Your Developmental Conversations to the Next Level

October 11, 2012 — 7 Comments

iStock 000019693386XSmall 300x199 Get Real:  Take Your Developmental Conversations to the Next Level

For a variety of reasons, many manager/employee relationships stay formal, cordial, and don’t realize their full potential.  The conversation stays focused on the work at hand, and hopefully there is some discussion of strengths and development needs, along with a plan to improve on them.  There is often real reluctance to go deeper.


Choices, fear, time, professional boundaries…. I’ll give you a minute to complete the list____, ____, _____, _____.  Real can be scary.

And yet, some relationships seem to bust past the normal conversational fare.  The query goes deeper… and the outcome is amazing.  Real can be vital.

I have debated this with leaders from across a variety of organizations and contexts.  My leadership choice is err on the side of going deeper, unless I pick up real signals to the contrary.

5 Real Conversations Worth Having

So you want to go deeper, but you don’t want to cross any inappropriate boundaries.  Where do you start?  Here are a few topics that open up the door for deeper trust and broader development.

My Big Dream

Most development conversations focus on potential next steps, or the 5 year plan.  What other big dreams are your employees holding in their hearts?  What do they want to become?  What’s on their bucket list?  Is there any way to build some related work or skills into their current job?  It’s motivating to be working on your big dream, even in baby steps.

What Motivates Me

Just asking is a good start.  However, you can also learn a lot through observation.  Paying attention can give you insights that will serve as excellent fodder for a deeper dialogue.  When do you see them “skipping to work?”  A starter… “you seem really excited about this project… what aspects make it most meaningful for you?”

What Scares Me

This one’s more tricky.  And, it’s not on the short list for new relationships.  However, as your relationship deepens, getting underneath fear and uncertainty can go a long way in helping someone to grow.  Facing fears leads to confidence and competence.

What I Really Need from You

An important one to ask from the beginning of a new relationship.  The trick is to keep asking as the relationship matures.   You will likely get a more real answer as the trust increases.

What Matters To Me More Than This Job?

Really? Yup.  I wouldn’t ask it just that way… but…. what do they care deeply about… their children?  their church?  their hobbies?  their aging parents? their health?  Knowing what really matters is vital.  A little knowledge can go a long way in making you a more supportive leader.

These conversations evolve over time and won’t work best in one sitting… but bringing them in gently as the relationship evolves can go a long way to building trust, development and inspiring best work.

See Also:

Four Strategies to Increase Organizational Trust and Transparency

Hold That Question: The Art of Big Questions Held Long

Team Trouble:  How to Build a Team One Person at a TIme

You may also enjoy Wally’ Bock’s mid-week review (honored to be included in this lineup)

What topics have helped you get more “real” with your employees?

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7 responses to Get Real: Take Your Developmental Conversations to the Next Level

  1. One way to make these convos easier is to have it outside of work during a round of golf for example.

    Strong leaders know how to broach these areas in a natural way. For others, they avoid going deeper and personal because they’re afraid of coming off as too friendly which they feel is a weakness.

    The better your relationship with the team, the more they’ll want to do for you.

  2. I really enjoyed reading this post. I agree that strong leaders should be able to share some of these thoughts with others. I think that having these conversations with employees gives the managers a “human” side to them that employees might not see otherwise. Thank you for sharing.

  3. The trick here is to show constant and genuine concern. It doesn’t require orchestration to make this happen if you just remain sincerely interested in your people. If the concern only shows up at development interactions, you will never get inside.

  4. Tom, you raise an excellent point here I agree completely… it’s absolutely about consistent genuine concern. Thanks for adding that.

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  1. Get Real: Taking Your Developmental Conversations to the Next Level | Lead Change Group - December 3, 2012

    [...] And yet, some relationships seem to bust past the normal conversational fare. The query goes deeper… and the outcome is amazing. Real can be vital. Read More [...]

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