"I Think We Have an Issue" - Delivering unwelcome messages

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As testers, project managers, or consultants, we are paid to tell the truth as we see it. But what to us is evident fact about our projects can be unwelcome news to the powerful people who need to hear the message. Delivering bad news well to customers and senior managers takes courage and skill, as does dealing with many of the recipient’s reactions. For most people, the ability to do these things at all—let alone well—does not come easily. In this webinar, Fiona Charles shares practical strategies and tips for delivering significant messages successfully.

Presented by Fiona Charles

Published in: Technology, Business
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  • "I Think We Have an Issue" - Delivering unwelcome messages

    1. 1. I Think We Have an Issue Delivering unwelcome messages Fiona Charles EuroSTAR Webinar February 11, 2014
    2. 2. The Vasa I Think We Have an Issue 2
    3. 3. January 1625: King Gustavus II Adolphus signed a contract for the design and construction of a warship he intended to be the showpiece of the Swedish navy 400 men worked for more than 3 years to build the ship – at huge cost; 1000+ oaks were felled… August 1628: setting out on her maiden voyage with much fanfare, the Vasa capsized and sank to the bottom of Stockholm harbour, where she remained until finally lifted in 1961 I Think We Have an Issue 3
    4. 4. We’ll never know who knew what (and when), and whom they told during that 3-year project About the top-heavy design of the Vasa About the ongoing impacts of changing requirements in a project with a fixed launch date We do know that a standard stability test conducted shortly before the launch had to be abandoned because it was unsafe to continue I Think We Have an Issue 4
    5. 5. Why was the unstable Vasa launched on schedule? Could it have been because nobody dared deliver this unwelcome message to the person(s) with authority to make the right decision? I Think We Have an Issue 5
    6. 6. Who dares tell the King… President or Prime Minister CEO Executive Project Sponsor Customer ? I Think We Have an Issue 6
    7. 7. As project managers, testers (& test leads), and consultants, we are paid to tell the truth as we see it. But what we see as evident fact can be unwelcome news to the powerful people who need to hear the message. I Think We Have an Issue 7
    8. 8. Few managers want to hear news that: A project is failing The quality of a critical system threatens a planned launch Bad news like this can be threatening to the recipient I Think We Have an Issue 8
    9. 9. What happens when people communicate ? I Think We Have an Issue 9
    10. 10. Satir Interaction Model intake meaning significance response I Think We Have an Issue 10
    11. 11. What the recipient actually takes in intake meaning significance response Some things that can affect intake •Message content and presentation (words, message, body language) •Relationship of speaker & recipient (trust, roles, power…) •Recipient’s communication preferences (directness, level of detail…) •Cultural differences (e.g., communication styles, accent) •Recipient’s state of mind •Noise, external distractions •etc. I Think We Have an Issue 11
    12. 12. How the recipient interprets the intake intake meaning significance Many things can influence interpretation, including the recipient’s past experiences and hopes or plans for the future •Information taken in •Information recipient supplies to fill gaps in the message •Relationship & history with speaker •Experience with analogous situations •Recipient’s political agenda •Upbringing, background, personality •Prior knowledge, preconceptions, assumptions •etc. response I Think We Have an Issue 12
    13. 13. How the recipient feels about his/her interpretation of the intake intake meaning significance response Past experiences and current concerns can influence the recipient’s feelings •Relationship of speaker & recipient (trust, roles, history, power…) •Recipient’s state of mind, self-esteem •Corporate, project, & personal history and current situation •Recipient’s political agenda •Risks and opportunities posed by the message: to the recipient and/or other people or entities •How the recipient feels about his/her feelings •etc. I Think We Have an Issue 13
    14. 14. How the recipient responds intake meaning significance Some things that can influence a response •Relationship of speaker & recipient (trust, roles, history, power…) •Presence or absence of other people •Significance of the message to the recipient (and feelings about those feelings) •Recipient’s communication preferences •Recipient’s personal rules •Recipient’s personal or political agenda •etc. response I Think We Have an Issue 14
    15. 15. A meeting will consist of many such interactions You can’t control the other person’s part But by working to make your own part go well, you can have a positive influence on the whole interaction I Think We Have an Issue 15
    16. 16. Prepare I Think We Have an Issue 16
    17. 17. I keep six honest serving-men (They taught me all I knew); Their names are What and Why and When And How and Where and Who. Rudyard Kipling The Elephant's Child I Think We Have an Issue 17
    18. 18. What is the message? Why do you want to deliver this message—or feel you must? Who should you talk to? When and where should you have the conversation? How are you going to say it? I Think We Have an Issue 18
    19. 19. People (Why & Who) I Think We Have an Issue 19
    20. 20. Your own motives and objectives Why do you believe you should deliver this message? What good outcome do you want to enable? What bad outcome do you want to prevent? What are the risks to the organization or project If you don’t deliver this message? If you do deliver the message? I Think We Have an Issue 20
    21. 21. Your risks could include: Credibility Professional reputation Position in the organization Amour propre/confidence What could you stand to lose from delivering this message badly (or at all)? Or from NOT delivering this message? I Think We Have an Issue 21
    22. 22. Who is the right recipient for your message? Who is the decision-maker who really needs to hear this? Is that the person you should talk to? Most likely to be receptive Next person up the chain Go directly to the top? I Think We Have an Issue 22
    23. 23. What is this person’s relationship to you? In the hierarchy Previous interactions and observations Mutual trust and credibility Power I Think We Have an Issue 23
    24. 24. Things you know about this person that could help you prepare for the meeting Motivations Expectations of others Integrity Political agenda, aspirations Personality type Listening style and attention span Preferred level of detail I Think We Have an Issue 24
    25. 25. What about the recipient’s risks? How might this message be threatening to this recipient? What is the risk if he/she doesn’t get the message? I Think We Have an Issue 25
    26. 26. Setting (Where &When) I Think We Have an Issue 26
    27. 27. Choose a time and place to optimize intake of your message Scheduled meeting specifically for this Quiet place When you can be prepared Not in a crowd, or in front of other managers/peers Minimize chances of embarrassing or annoying the recipient I Think We Have an Issue 27
    28. 28. Message (What & How) I Think We Have an Issue 28
    29. 29. What are you going to say? Know the essence of your message before you speak How do you know you’re right? Do you have a resolution/ approach to propose? I Think We Have an Issue 29
    30. 30. What background could make it hard for the recipient to hear your message? Previous knowledge or understanding of the situation Conflicting information from other trusted sources What background could you leverage to make your message more compelling? I Think We Have an Issue 30
    31. 31. How will what’s already known or believed influence what you say? I Think We Have an Issue 31
    32. 32. Tailor the detail level to your audience Sit in a chair or stand at a whiteboard? A busy executive may give you 5 minutes Have substantiating material in your pocket I Think We Have an Issue 32
    33. 33. “Center, enter, turn…” Problem-solving, not blame Stay calm and matter-of-fact Watch your body language I Think We Have an Issue 33
    34. 34. Stick to facts you can substantiate Don’t offer opinions unless asked If asked, either decline or be clear that you are stating an opinion Be clear about any assumptions I Think We Have an Issue 34
    35. 35. Responses I Think We Have an Issue 35
    36. 36. Watch the other person and listen carefully Choice of words Tone, pitch and volume Body language Did you make your meaning clear? I Think We Have an Issue 36
    37. 37. Engage in dialogue Remember that it’s difficult for the other person, too! Bring out the positive in the interaction Try to talk the other person’s language Make sure you’re understood I Think We Have an Issue 37
    38. 38. Stay in problem-solving mode Avoid getting sidetracked into defensiveness or blaming others Ask, “Have I given you enough information?” If you encounter anger or hostility, excuse yourself and ask to resume later I Think We Have an Issue 38
    39. 39. Follow up Send follow-up email and request a response Summarize conversation (& agreement, if possible) List action items I Think We Have an Issue 39
    40. 40. Tips I Think We Have an Issue 40
    41. 41. Risk assessment before you speak Is this message important enough to outweigh the risks to me? Try to discern and understand the recipient’s background and risks Remember there’s an impact for him/her What are the risks of not speaking? To you? To the other person? I Think We Have an Issue 41
    42. 42. Don’t wait till it’s too late Nobody likes ambush Try not to surprise Speak the recipient’s language If it’s $€£, speak $€£ I Think We Have an Issue 42
    43. 43. Don’t put yourself at a disadvantage Try not to get into a 2 on 1 situation Level the playing field Consider standing up to deliver Use visual aids (whiteboard, etc.) Easier for you to focus discussion & reiterate important points Harder to argue with I Think We Have an Issue 43
    44. 44. Build/preserve/enhance the relationship Don’t corner the other person Try to put yourself in their position Seek cooperation Keep conflict healthy It’s a professional discussion of a problematic situation I Think We Have an Issue 44
    45. 45. “Let me get back to you on that” Table contentious items or those where you need more backup If the meeting becomes heated, get yourself out I Think We Have an Issue 45
    46. 46. Don’t accept responsibility that’s not yours “How would you like me to handle this?” Ask for guidance, not solutions I Think We Have an Issue 46
    47. 47. Who might be an ally? Think about the “back channels” Prepare the ground with regular communication “If there’s a problem, how would you like me to let you know?” In difficult situations, keep a log of significant events, decisions, actions I Think We Have an Issue 47
    48. 48. Know your limitations/restrictions/legal rights & responsibilities Whistle-blowers beware! Ultimately, it’s not your decision You’re here to share your professional judgement (and sometimes to help put the decision where it belongs) I Think We Have an Issue 48
    49. 49. Successful delivery of any message— welcome or not Your message has been heard and understood The recipient treats your message as valuable information for appropriate consideration You retain or enhance your credibility I Think We Have an Issue 49
    50. 50. Sources & Further Readings I Think We Have an Issue 50
    51. 51. Sources Satir Interaction Model Weinberg, Gerald M., Becoming a Technical Leader, ISBN 978-0-932633-02-6, Dorset House, 1986. (also available as an eBook from www.geraldmweinberg.com) Dale Emery, “Untangling Communication”. http://dhemery.com/articles/untangling_communication/ Judy Bamberger, “The Satir Interaction Model”. http://sstconline.org/2006/pdfs/JB1365Notes.pdf Don Gray: 2 Blog posts: “Debugging System Boundaries”, “Why Don’t You hear What I Mean?” http://donaldegray.com/debugging-system-boundaries-the-satir-interaction-model/ http://donaldegray.com/why-dont-you-hear-what-i-mean-the-satir-interaction-model/ I Think We Have an Issue 51
    52. 52. Suggestions for further reading Communication Karten, Naomi, Communication Gaps and How to Close Them. ISBN 0-932633-53-6, Dorset House, 2002. Isabel Briggs Myers, Peter B. Myers, Gifts Differing: Understanding personality type. DaviesBlack Publishing, 1980, 1995. Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzer, Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking when the Stakes Are High, McGraw Hill eBooks, 2002. Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, Sheila Heen, Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most, Penguin Books, Edition with a new preface and chapter, 2010. Speaking Truth to Power Norm Kerth, “Speaking Truth to Power: How to break bad news to those who can crush you.” Better Software, November 2006. Available on www.stickyminds.com Elisabeth Hendrickson, “The Politics of Testing: Making conflict count.” STP magazine, January 2010. http://www.stpcollaborative.com/knowledge/545-the-politics-of-testing-making-conflict-count I Think We Have an Issue 52
    53. 53. Fiona Charles fiona.charles@quality-intelligence.com www.quality-intelligence.com Twitter: @FionaCCharles Images and text ©Fiona Charles 2014

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