Beware Multiple Questions

set of hand drawn arrows and speech bubbles on cardboard  background, vector illustration

set of hand drawn arrows and speech bubbles on cardboard background, vector illustration

A common mistake made by managers when giving feedback is to ask questions which are unclear. This can easily make the conversation more difficult than it should have been.

Let me give you an example:

“Fred, I have noticed you have been late in submitting your figures for the last two weeks and this is having a knock-on impact delaying the new marketing campaign.”

(so far so good)

“What’s the problem? Is it to do with the new software or is it because you are waiting on Jim in sales? Is there anything I need to know and how can I help?”

(Fred now has a choice of which question to answer and will probably plump for the easiest)

“Thanks boss, no everything is now under control and I will let you know if I need any help.”

The result of the above exchange is minimal. The manager is none the wiser about what has happened and Fred is none the wiser as to what the manager wants him to do in future.

A much better question would have been:

“What’s the problem?”

(Fred talks about the situation and you listen, before asking a second question)

“What do you need to do to ensure your figures are always submitted on time in future?”

Multiple questions do not help the person receiving the feedback so keep your questions short, simple and only ask one at a time.

Difficult Conversations: The Right Time and Location

In my previous top tip I suggested that preparation and planning are vital before embarking upon a difficult conversation.

In this tip I will share with you some top tips for getting the meeting off on the right foot

Top Tip No.3 is “The Right Time and Location”

So when is the right time?

A common misunderstanding is that ‘feedback’ (which is of course what any difficult conversation is about) should take place ASAP after the event.

The problem here is that ASAP generally means as soon as it is convenient for you the manager!

But what if ASAP is a bad time for the individual? What if they are still emotionally charged by the situation or if ASAP clashes with something else they need to be doing? What if ASAP for you is 0900 the next morning and they are a “don’t speak to me until I have had my first cup of coffee” type person!

The point is that ASAP needs to consider the question “when is the best time for them such that they are most likely to take the feedback on board?”

Now of course if the situation is such that it needs to be dealt with immediately (e.g. safety or compliance issue) that is different but most of the time we have a choice. If you have spent the time planning your approach, don’t undo your good work by ignoring the other person’s needs and potentially make the conversation harder that it should be.

So what about the right place?

The same applies. Ask yourself the question “what is the best place for them such that they are most likely to take the feedback on board?”. Most often this will be a private area at work, but it could be a quiet corner or maybe even at a nearby coffee shop. 

Where’s your right place?

Difficult Conversation? Prepare Your Notes

In my previous top tip I discussed the importance of being clear on your purpose for having the difficult conversation in the first place.

Now that you have a purpose, what next?

Top Tip No.2 is “Prepare your Notes”

When faced with a difficult conversation it is usually true to say that the stakes can be high and that it is important that we are at our best. With this in mind it would therefore be madness to approach the conversation without some serious consideration to mitigate the chances of being at your worst.

Preparation is therefore vital and if nothing else have ready the specific details of the subject matter – i.e. the reasons for the difficult conversation.

Nothing will see a conversation become difficult more quickly than a vague generalisation, half-fact or woolly bit of feedback. Future top tips will build on the above by discussing ‘specific details’ and particularly the difference between Fact and Opinion.

Your specifics therefore can be your written notes, a recording of a phone call or perhaps a printed email. It would also be a good idea to consider some of the key questions that you would like to ask the other person. Writing these down will help ensure you stay on track and hopefully remember to ask.

So does that mean it is good practice to write down and prepare a detailed script?

For several reasons, absolutely not!


1. Are you are trained actor? Can you remember a detailed script?
2. Reading a detailed script will make it look like you have already reached a conclusion.

3. Conversations never run to plan so the script will soon be of no use to you.

To summarise I will refer to a version of the good old 7 P’s as this definitely applies to Difficult Conversations

Prior Proper Planning Prevents Painfully Poor Performance

What’s your leadership style?

Every leader has their own unique style, and way of doing business. As a leader, you may tend to rely on ‘gut instinct’ and a general sense of what is best based on years of experience and training, but there’s more to it than that.

As we continue to train leaders and managers, it’s become evident that there are a variety of ‘leadership styles’, and knowing yours will make a huge difference in the results you get from your team and even from yourself!