” We need to Talk” Difficult Conversation for the First time Manager
Have you in your experience heard the words, ” We need to Talk”
You have either said this to someone or someone has said this to you. In either case , these four words can be stressful. Be it at work or at home , from your boss or your spouse, girlfriend or boyfriend, these words always signal of expected change & transition.
I have experienced butterflies in my stomach whenever I have heard these words. My mind would spin off in different directions and leave me thinking of all the negative stuff .
My First Experience as a Manager
Transitions can always be painful. More so, if it impacts your career and personal life . It is never easy for anyone to deal with the transition. Therefore we all dread those four words. The first time I had to use those words was for one of my high performing team members. Anita was a high performer and a key contributor to the project. But her bullying and arrogant attitude were creating a toxic environment. No one in the team liked working with her on the project. There would be daily conflicts and the situation was getting out of hand.
When even after repeated feedback sessions, things did not change, I was forced to take action. I had to release her from the project.
As a first time manager , this was a tough situation to be in. I had to deal with empathy and at the same time ensure that I was focusing on project completion. I was nervous and was not ready for this conversation even though I had told Anita that “we need to talk.” I had to prepare for this conversation.
Since I was losing a productive and knowledgeable team member, I had to ensure that the team put in extra effort and complete the project. For the team and myself, this was a change. I knew ,I had dragged my feet for long on this problem. Somewhere my indecision to act had signaled to the team that I did not care for them .
I did not want to jeopardize the project and hence ignored the team’s frustration. The team morale tanked and project deliverables were taking a hit.
As an individual contributor, getting your own work done on time and with quality is one thing but as a manager getting other people to do that is another challenge.
Moving On Creates Positive Change
I was transitioning from an individual contributor to a team manager. Was therefore forced to think beyond myself and my achievements. The transition was painful as I would be under constant pressure to get my team to perform. There was instability. Having to let go a key team member was likely to increase the load on other members. While this excited some , others were not so happy.
My mentor was a great support during these tough times and helped me stay positive.
Becoming a manager for the first time can be exciting but also overwhelming. It requires skills like communication, listening and coaching to manage people. And when you find yourself in a situation like I was in the above case, you need the wisdom to help you navigate. Making tough decisions that are likely to rock the boat for some time, need skills that come through experience. Ask for help and guidance. Have plenty of patience as such situations can snowball into much bigger issues . Situations like the above rarely resolve by itself , it needs to be dealt with immediately .
Till the time I faced this situation , I was an impatient person and rarely stopped to listen to my team. All that I bothered was about the delivery of the project. While my focus helped me become a manager, it was not the only skill that would have helped me be a successful manager. I had to continue learning and developing skills.I learned it the hard way.
Important skills for the first time Managers
- Be patient
not just with yourself but also with your team. When faced with tough situations, deal with patience.
- Be decisive
I should have taken a decision on Anita when the issue started surfacing. Instead, I was indecisive.
Your team does not feel comfortable if ,as a manager, you lack the ability to make decisions. It does not create an environment of trust and confidence.
- Continue to invest time in learning & developing
Invest time in crafting your people skills. You will make mistakes, but each mistake will have a lesson to learn and improve.
“No great manager or leader ever fell from heaven, its learned not inherited.”
― Tom Northup