Front Line Managers Online Meeting Follow-up

Linda Holroyd

Everyone, thank you for joining this afternoon's Front Line Managers' Online meeting on the Uncomfortable Conversations topic. My thanks also to our panelists for their participation. 
  • Feeling Uncomfortable in Conversations: Linda Holroyd
  • Embrace Diversity and Change: Steve Jarrett, Oracle  
  • Draw a Line in the Sand: Lora Muller, Tektronix 
  • It's Not Personal, It's Just Data: Amber Barber, Lam Research
  • Making A 'Me Outlook' Into a 'We Outlook': Tracy Meersman, Skybox Security
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Below is a compilation of notes from our conversation. 

We were fortunate to have a wide range of panelists speaking from varying perspectives on how to best have an uncomfortable conversation.
We started the conversation by accepting that having these uncomfortable conversations is inevitable as we are all different - with different objectives, motivations and perspectives. 

Accept these foundational beliefs:
  • Embracing people with diverge backgrounds provide many business advantages. But with people coming from different backgrounds and perspectives and objectives, it's inevitable that we will have uncomfortable conversations. To manage these conversations, we must first accept that they will be inevitable and be courageous, gracious, and open enough to have uncomfortable conversations. 
  • The command-and-control mindset rarely resolves the issues underneath the uncomfortable conversations. This tactic might bring short-term results, but it rarely builds buy-in and engagement.
  • It's not the fast and quick that necessarily win the race and make the most progress. Many times, the persistence, the consistency will help bring about lasting change through ongoing uncomfortable conversations.
Strategies for facilitating uncomfortable conversations:
  • Be specific and detailed in your communications, and focus on the data and the facts, agreeing on what you're accomplishing over what timeframe with what resources as well as what is to be measured, and what success looks like.
  • Focus on the data and the facts. Don't make things personal. Diffuse a situation by referring back to the data and the facts. 
  • Adjust your expectations on what 'progress' means, especially if you're working with deep-seated ongoing issues. Celebrate the small wins and make progress little by little, staying positive and collaborative throughout the process.
  • Meet the other person where they are and speak in a way which resonates for her/him, respecting their motivations and objectives. As you better understand where the other person, it might make sense to re-set your own expectations and objectives by being realistic about how you can meet in the middle and what you should attempt to do together. 
  • When having an uncomfortable conversation for a project which has gone south, focus on identifying and fixing the gaps and improving the process rather than making personal judgments on who should have done what by when.
  • The language you use makes a big difference. Be calm and gentle and speak in a tone and vocabulary which would resonate well with the other party.
  • Emphasize that we are all on one team. Use 'we' rather than 'me' language, go from WIIFM to WIIFY and WIIFU (what's in the it me/you/us). 
  • Align the individual with team, corporate and professionals goals.
  • Provide context/history for the behavior/circumstances which might make the other party feel uncomfortable.
  • Be authentic and empathetic and assume positive intent no matter how uncomfortable the conversation becomes.
  • Seek to understand the position of the other parties. 
  • Focus on the learnings with each experience - whether it's good or not so good.
  • Mirror back/rephrase what the other person is saying to make sure you're understanding their position.
  • Accept that no business, no business is perfect. We will all err in some specific way. Helping everyone to be transparent, to be open, to be humble and collaborative will build trusting relationships and networks and increase the likelihood of success for projects and teams. 
  • Be aligned on why uncomfortable conversation must be had and how that conversation would benefit everyone.
  • Gently call out people who are avoiding uncomfortable conversations, who are making people uncomfortable without compassion, who are using uncomfortable conversations to further their own agenda, rather than a common agenda.
  • When you have to give negative feedback, consider the sandwich technique which starts with a positive, has the requested behavior in the middle, and ends with another positive request, which might set a direction for the next interaction.
  • Don't force acknowledgment, compliance, responsibility for something someone is not ready to accept. Focus more on how that person does things more productivity the next time. 
In working together, we can meet our personal, professional, corporate and human goals.
  • Acknowledge and Embrace Differences. Nurture a Culture of Openness and Acceptance.
  • Be Courageous and Clear in Your Communication.
  • Continuously learn how to better have uncomfortable conversations.
  • Embrace a Relationship-First, Customer-First Mindset.
  • Listen deeply and well.

About FountainBlue
FountainBlue is a management consultancy which supports leadership and innovation for tech companies by providing strategy and execution consulting services around markets, products and people. 
Launched in 2005, FountainBlue has served thousands of innovators and leaders through our monthly When She Speaks series (launched in May 2006), our VIP roundtable series (launched in Dec 2013), and our Front Line Managers Online program (launched in May 2020). 
In response to the pandemic, starting March 2020, all FountainBlue programs will be held online, even after the shelter in place mandate is lifted. This will provide the opportunity to serve a larger and more global network of innovators and leaders. For more information, visit

About FountainBlue's Front Line Managers Online Series
FountainBlue's Semi-Monthly Front Line Managers Online series features a panel discussion of HR leaders presenting on leadership and innovation topics of interest to front line managers. 
Our meetings are conducted online from 11:50 a.m. - 1 p.m., generally on the first and third Fridays. Each meeting features articles and research on topics of interest for Front Line Managers in the network, along with additional input and advice from participating HR leaders within the FountainBlue network. Participating attendees are invited to send their questions to the panelists through email prior to the meeting or through chat during the meeting.

Please join us for other upcoming Front Line Managers Online programs.

  • September 4, 2020: Uncomfortable Conversations
  • September 18, 2020: Centered Leadership
  • October 2, 2020: Common Management Challenges
  • October 16, 2020: Stress Management Best Practices
  • November 6, 2020: Productivity Hacks
  • November 20, 2020: The Gift of Feedback
  • December 4, 2020: The New Normal
  • December 18, 2020: HR Leaders: Predictions for 2021
  • January 8, 2021: Goal-Setting Best Practices 
  • January 22, 2021: Growing Your Network
  • February 5, 2021: Optimizing Performance
  • February 19, 2021: Adopting a More Inclusive Workforce
  • March 5, 2021: Change Management Best Practices
  • March 19, 2021: Show Me the Data
  • April 2, 2021: One Dot a Point, Two Dots a Line, Three Dots a Trend
  • April 16, 2021: Managing Up
  • May 7, 2021: Mentorship Best Practices
  • May 21, 2021: The Art of the Pivot
  • June 4, 2021: Growing Your Emotional Intelligence
  • June 18, 2021: Personality Styles

  • Until we next connect.


    Linda Holroyd
    CEO, FountainBlue
    650-646-1117 text and cell

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