Episode 10 – Season 2

Published: November 8, 2021

Andrea Newton, Founder of Confident Conversations | The Art of Conversation

Andrea Newton, Founder of Confident Conversations | The Art of Conversation

Andrea is the founder of Confident Conversations, a company that helps managers and leaders at all levels within organisations get comfortable with the uncomfortable and to have conversations that matter.

In this episode, we discuss something that sounds very obvious and that a lot of people don’t think they need any help doing…… Having conversations with people.

Andrea doesn’t think it is as easy as it sounds, she believes there are 7 significant conversations that leaders should be having to get the best out of their team and achieve the desired outcome.  

In this episode Ian and Andrea discuss:

  • Why do we need to coach managers on how to have uncomfortable conversations
  • The seven significant conversations
  • Why do managers avoid these conversations and what happens if they don’t happen.
  • Andrea tells Ian off for doing it wrong for so long.

What is inspiring Andrea:

Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. By Brene Brown

How to contact Andrea: 

https://www.linkedin.com/in/andrea-newton-cc/

https://confidentconversations.co.uk/

https://confidentconversations.co.uk/podcast/

Transcript

Introduction 
Welcome to the workplace Wellbeing Podcast, the podcast for wellbeing professionals that looks at best practices in organisations that care about their people, and which keeps an eye on the growing number of suppliers in the wellbeing space.

The workplace wellbeing podcast is sponsored by fastP.A.Y.E a financial wellbeing solution that facilitates flexible salary advances. It also provides access to financial education, a benefits assessment calculator, and a host of other financial wellbeing tools. FastP.A.Y.E is part of the WorkTech group that includes ShopWorks Workforce Solutions, and SolvedByAi

ShopWorks offers Scheduling and Time and Attendance tools that improve your Workforce Management Processes, whilst SolvedByAi provides unique artificial intelligence products that deliver optimum staffing levels and improve employee retention.

Ian Hogg
Hi, welcome to the Workplace Wellbeing Podcast. I’m Ian Hogg, Chairman of fastP.A.Y.E and today I’m joined by Andrea Newton, who is the Founder of Confident Conversations. A company that helps managers and leaders of all levels within organisations to get comfortable with the uncomfortable and to have conversations that matter. In this episode, I want to discuss something that is going to sound very obvious, and, that a lot of people don’t think they need any help doing. And that subject is having conversations with people. Andrea doesn’t think it’s as easy as it sounds. She believes there are seven significant conversations that leaders should be having to get the best out of their team and achieve the desired outcome. Andrea also believes and I agree with her that managers aren’t very good at it. Hi, Andrea, thanks for joining us.

Andrea Newton 
Hi, Ian, thank you for having me.

Ian Hogg 
You’re welcome. Glad to have you on board. Why don’t we start as we always do, with you giving the listeners a bit about your background and what Confident Conversations does.

Andrea Newton 
Okay, so my background is in HR back in the days when I used to have a proper job as my mother calls it. But for the last 21 years, I’ve been self-employed, Confident Conversations has been the area that I focused on. And it came originally from my HR background, where when I was supporting line managers, I recognise that if they sometimes needed to have difficult conversations, they would often come to our door looking for help looking for advice. And I realised that actually expecting managers to simply have difficult conversations was probably a bit unfair of us. So started to do a little bit of training and development with my own leadership team. And it’s just kind of gone from there. And over the last 20 odd years, I’ve worked with literally hundreds of organisations, from the NHS to media, helping managers and leaders have conversations that matter. And yeah, so here I am today.

Ian Hogg 
Okay. And I mean, I said it in the intro, it sounds that it is a bit, you know, obvious that conversations are important, but also that everybody’s got some experience of holding them. So why do we need to coach people on conversations?

Andrea Newton 
Because I think sometimes dependent on who you are as a person, dependent on your personality, dependent on your level of confidence and how assertive you are, if the subject is a sensitive subject, you know, I think there’s an awful lot to it. And there’s one part of conversations that is so important that we’re never taught how to do and that’s listening. You know, often when we talk about conversations, we think about transmission rather than reception. And so I think there’s there’s an awful lot more to conversations than perhaps we might think, at first glance, and conversations can do a lot of damage. If they’re not handled well. We can also end up with all sorts of costs and risks to the organisation, if certain conversations that should be happening aren’t happening. So it’s a lot more complex. And I think more than we originally believe Ian.

Ian Hogg 
Yeah, no, I was, I was being a little bit facetious in that in that question, but yeah, I agree with you. I think, you know, we, funnily enough, we’re having a conversation at work the other day about a manager, and one of the team that somebody needs to sort of coach and bring on. And as we were discussing it, we pretty much realised that the manager had never had any training before being promoted. He is a great guy, but we’d never really shown that person how to, to have those conversations or, you know, or give them any training on it. So I think, there’s a big assumption isn’t there that once you’re a manager, that somehow, that title makes you miraculously good on all aspects of management. And it’s probably a dangerous assumption.

Andrea Newton 
For sure. And you know, I don’t think you’re on your own when you say you suddenly realise that the guy hadn’t had any formal development. I mean, I was working with a group yesterday, and there were people in the group that had 20, 25 years experience. And they’ve never had any formal development in how to have what I call ‘Crucial Conversations’. So you know, that might be a conversation where you need to talk about someone’s performance, or you need to give some constructive criticism, or you need to deal with an absence issue. And the guy had been doing the job for 22 years, I think it was. And basically, he had made it opposite gone along, or he’d copied a role model, but nobody had ever given him any formal help in how to go about, you know, getting the best outcome. So, yeah, I don’t think you’re on your own there, mate.

Ian Hogg 
Yeah, and you know, I mean,  you talk about some of the consequences of, you know, having conversations badly. So some of those sorts of things, you know, somebody returns from, I’m sure we can all envisage what the worst possible outcome for conversation is, you know, somebody returned some sickness. I’m sure there’s a completely disastrous way to approach that. But you know, what,  I’d like to think most of the people who get promoted to managers, aren’t that, you know, they’re not John Cleese. They’re slightly better than that. But what  sort of impact do you see, day to day where people aren’t trained, and they’re having conversations, badly or bad outcomes.

Andrea Newton
Some research that was done recently, and was quite interesting and quite scary in that it suggested as many as 78% of managers admitted that they would rather avoid a difficult conversation at all costs. And I think within the research, 66% said that they often feel anxious about having to have significant conversations. And so I think there’s an awful lot of potential costs and risks to a business, we talk so much about the importance of employee engagement, employee wellbeing. And actually, we sometimes forget that part and parcel of that is feeling as though you matter, feeling as though you are informed having somebody communicate clearly and regularly with you. So just the basic stuff like that all the way through to a very sad story that I read yesterday, where a an employee had actually taken their own life. And it was suggested that work related stress had played a part in it. And that actually, the organisation had been aware that this guy was struggling. So you know, it can be from very small, very subtle issues all the way through to, you know, even things as significant as life or death.

Ian Hogg 
Yeah, I mean, that brings it home, because one assumes, you know, you talk about some of the consequences might be retention, or, you know, someone gets fed up, not being properly communicated, and they leave. But you’re right, that, assuming that people are resilient about it, and they just cope and move on. Whereas, like you say, can be much more significant if people maybe don’t have that resilience.

Andrea Newton 
And equally, you know, we now live in a world that’s more and more litigious, and if people don’t feel that they’re being treated fairly, that perhaps they feel that they’re being discriminated against, etc, etc. People are far more likely to pursue a grievance or even a tribunal if they don’t feel that they’ve been managed terribly well. So organisations have also got things such as their reputations, such as legal costs, and often it’s the good guys that go if we’re not talking about the things that need talking about. So we’re constantly looking to replace talent.

Ian Hogg 
Yeah. Which we’ve got lots of customers at fastP.A.Y.E’s sister companies and, and they are all struggling really hard to find talent. So it couldn’t be a more timely subject really, because everybody seems to be short staffed at the moment. Just getting back to the litigious, Andrea, so, you know, one of the things I think, is that, you know, I speak to managers that are still progressing and developing, and they are often concerned about having difficult conversations because they’re scared of, you know, putting their foot in it really, there are so many things that you seem to have to worry about now, before you can have a conversation. HR regulations, cant just make somebody an offer, proposal, or you suggest something, and if you get it wrong before you’re not you’re in front of HR, and you know, it’s your fault, you’ve made a mistake, when you probably, you know, felt that you were just trying to be frank and open. You find that that is a concern for managers.

Andrea Newton 
Very much. So managers worry about getting it wrong, they worry about putting their foot in it. I think so many of them have concerns around employment law. And you know, maybe worry that they don’t quite understand what is okay to say, and not okay to say. And if you work in an organisation where you don’t feel that you’re supported by the next level of management, for example, you’re probably not going to go out on a limb to deal with something for fear of getting it wrong, and nobody’s got your back. So the legislation, appropriate behaviour, following policy, making sure that the procedures being adhered to all of that, again, contributes to sometimes why managers will be fearful around such conversations.

Ian Hogg 
Yeah. And going back to your statistic of the 70 odd percent, that they just don’t have them sometimes, you know.

Andrea Newton 
Yeah, yeah. And, you know, the risk of not having a conversation I’ve seen over the years. I’ve worked in, as I say, hundreds of different organisations, and so many I’ve gone into where they are working around an issue that perhaps cropped up 5, 10 years ago. And because they didn’t fix it at the time, they’ve kind of swept it under the carpet, that’s now become a big deal. So, you know, that’s impacting even years after, on performance on resource on costs. There was a construction company, and I was with the site manager on a Monday morning. And he just got a list through of the trades people that he was due to have on his site that week. I could see him looking through the list and you know, frowning or smiling or there was a reaction to every name. And I said to him, what, what are you doing? He said, Well, now that I’ve seen who I’ve got, he said, I realised we’re not going to get half the things done this week that we need to. And I said, why is that? He said, Well, some of these aren’t very good, you know, but nobody had actually had a conversation about their performance. They just worked around it. And that to me, just seems crazy.

Ian Hogg 
No, I, I get it. And I think, you know, I’m sure we can all mention examples like that, where managers complain about, you know, team members. And then if you ask them, Have you discussed it with them? Well, no, no, no, you know, so I think it’s the same thing. That’s, you know when we were talking, you know, before the podcast previously, you’ve told me about,  that you believe there are seven conversations that significant conversations? And I think, yeah, it’s pretty key to your sort of belief and how you go about businesses at Confident Conversations. Can you talk the listeners through those seven significant conversations and summarise them for me?

Andrea Newton
Yeah, I think that really at the first level, that’s about the confidence to have the conversations that you need to have. And we tend to find that is more so the case, if somebody is perhaps stepping into a leadership role for the first time, you know that that transition from mate to manager isn’t an easy one. And so we believe that there’s a basic level there for team leaders, supervisors, managers to be able to confidently have conversations, which means they get the job done. They’re not saying to people, can you just do me a favour mate? You know, they’re actually stepping into their management role and being confident in what they’re asking for. And it kind of follows on from there, you know, people will only value the business if they believe the business values them. So how do we let people know that we value them? How do we let people know that we care without turning into their mother or their social worker? So you know, carrying conversations, challenging conversations, if something isn’t happening in the way you need it to? Or if you need to represent your team or meeting and actually your opinion goes against the majority? How do we have challenging conversations? How do we give our boss feedback in a way that isn’t career suicide, you know? And then the coaching as you’ve mentioned, how do we develop the skill and confidence of our team? So rather than me telling you what to do? Is there a better way through a coaching conversation of us to achieve the desired outcome? And then we get into the more tricky conversations, the crucial conversation is probably the area that I do most work around with organisations, that tends to look at things like performance, conduct absence management, you know, the kind of day to day stuff that sometimes means we need to take a deep breath, put our big girl pants on in order to have the conversation. And then the two extremes are the critical and the crisis. I’m also a tutor qualified to deliver suicide intervention training. So I also talk to managers about how to have conversations about mental health, how to have conversations if they’re concerned for someone’s mental well being and equally. As I mentioned the very sad story earlier, if you do find that you’ve got someone in crisis, how do you have a conversation there? Because sometimes we mistakenly think that everyone who’s having thoughts of suicide will be upon the bridge staring down, when actually that person could be sat opposite you in a disciplinary interview, could be a colleague, and a team meeting could be the person that you just about to make redundant. So I believe that the seven significant conversations mean that managers can engage the team, they can challenge their team, they can motivate the team, and they can deliver the results that the organisation needs, whilst also supporting their wellbeing.

Ian Hogg 
Yeah, no, I agree. And, you know,  I’m old enough to have had a bit of experience with some of this,  and I’d be interested to explore how you think it impacts wellbeing, you know, I’ve got some ideas myself. Ranging from, you know, if you’ve got somebody who’s a poor performer who’s letting the team down, yeah, sometimes that causes conflict. Which doesn’t help anybody, least of all the poor performers. And actually, sometimes that person can be coached out of it quite quickly. And then and, you know, improves wellbeing all round, everybody’s just more relaxed and less stressed. What other sort of stuff do you see that sort of has an impact on wellbeing where these conversations aren’t had?

Andrea Newton 
I think it’s the general climate within the organisation, you know, how does it feel to work here? Because if honest conversations aren’t happening on a regular basis, how authentic, how genuine, how honest, can people be with each other? And so I believe that if we’re not creating a climate for honest, open frank dialogue, it can create stress, it can create tension, it can create resentment that can create bad feelings. If I can’t be honest with you, and perhaps give you feedback, do I then, you know, go home at night and worry about it. It might be that actually, I feel bullied, because I’m not able to challenge what you’re suggesting, saying, or doing to me. And so there are all sorts of really negative impact around wellbeing. And it winds me up no end when organisations think about wellbeing because you know, free fruit Friday and Wellness Wednesday without actually looking at the climate within which they are introducing such initiatives. Because let me tell you, no amount of free bananas is going to compensate for a bullying boss.

Ian Hogg 
I find, its a theme that comes up regularly on this podcast, Andrea, you know, free yoga and free fruits, but you need to just solve the bullying. And again, you know, those things, I think are, they’re really difficult because I’ve experienced that in the past. Because, you know, quite often there are some characters that are positive towards their own boss, but bullying down, you know they are very hard to spot and very hard to challenge. And even if you coach them, you know.  They’ll be receptive to what you coach them on. And then they might revert back to being not so nice to their staff. And if the staff, you know, I think that’s why the whistleblowing and other sorts of initiatives are important. But even then people don’t always speak up. Have you had experience with that? Is it you know, how could somebody sort of try and solve that within the workplace.

Andrea Newton 
I’ve actually had people come into workshops, and suddenly partway through the day burst into tears, because the real reason that they’re there is to learn how to be more assertive, and how to let people know that what they’re experiencing just isn’t acceptable. And, you know, the first time it happened, I was really shocked. But I’m sad to say over the years, I’ve had a fair few of those situations where people are desperate to find their voice and be able to challenge and equally where some managers are undermined by their managers. You know, I had, again, a situation just this week where a guy said, or, you know, I’d gone to reprimand a member of my team. And my boss basically took over and completely undermined me and reversed my decision. So you know, that’s another situation where I’d want people to be able to have an adult conversation, or else it just leads to frustration, it leads to tension. People get fed up, if, you know, they can’t be authentic, if they don’t feel that they matter, if they don’t feel heard, and we forget health and safety isn’t just about hardhat and high vis and safety boots. You know, health and safety is also about mental health and psychological safety. And that’s the climate that I’m talking about that I believe these significant conversations can create.

Ian Hogg 
Yeah, and do you find as a coach, you know, you’re in a coaching role. I’m not pigeonholing you as a coach, but you know, in a coaching role in an organisation, you find people are more comfortable speaking to you just an example in turn. So within fastP.A.Y.E, we have an external independent coach, who will give one to one’s your people, and he does a lot of our internal sort of surveys. And we find that where somebody might not come to me and say, Listen, your behavior is wrong Ian, and or this person is, you know, picking on me at work or whatever they might complain about, they will tell Andy, and he can find a way to manage that through, which normally avoid sort of, you know, giving up his sort of source, really, and, and putting, you know, avoiding too much confrontation, do you find that is that a positive in your role.

Andrea Newton 
That’s the sort of thing that I’ve definitely experienced and definitely been involved with. And what I would always encourage, actually, in that situation is that the individual looks at a way of developing the relationship so that it is okay, to be honest with each other. You know, at the end of the day, we can only get the best out of people within the workplace, if people can focus their energy and effort on their performance. If people are having to use energy to stay safe. Because you know, I don’t feel that I can have that conversation, or perhaps I don’t trust the person. You know, or even if I can’t actually be true to myself, I have to hide who I am. Just recently, I was talking to a guy about the number of homophobic attacks that we’re seeing in the UK. Now, this might sound really nothing to do with what we’re talking about. But basically, he was saying that there’s been a significant increase in the number of homophobic attacks. And if you think in the workplace, if people can’t be true to themselves, if people can’t be who they are, the energy that goes into pretending or hiding is energy that could have been used on doing the job. So I think again, it’s about making sure that as much as we can we develop positive working relationships with people so that we can say what needs to be said, without that relationship being damaged.

Ian Hogg 
Yeah. And I just want to go back to something that, great points, Andrea, and I agree with your point on, on sort of the pressure of somebody, that’s whether it’s homophobic or any other sort of pressures they’ve been put under unnecessarily. But just want to go back to something you were talking about earlier, which was the listening sort of, yeah, issue. I agree. I was trained as a salesman once, you know, and they always said, you know, you’ve got two ears and one mouth and use them in that proportion. And, but I do think, you know, quite often, when you’ve got difficult conversation, almost the first place you can start is to ask the other person, how do they think they’re doing? Do they think? How do they think they contributed to that meeting? You know, what, what’s your thoughts on that? Is that a good tactic? This is how I was trying to do it.

Andrea Newton 
I absolutely hate that if I’m honest.

Ian Hogg 
Excellent. You tell me.

Andrea Newton 
That, to me feels like a fishing trip that feels as though I want you to do the dirty work. And so if we were in that situation, so I say so, Ian, how do you think it’s going? And immediately, you know, because I’ve said that, that things aren’t quite right. Or else, I wouldn’t have said that. And therefore, you now start racking your brains thinking, Oh, my days, what have I done? What what do I need to say? What’s he looking for from me here? Do I just say that everything’s fine. I don’t know what he’s talking about. I don’t know what he really means. And that, to me is not a resourceful, productive conversation. I absolutely believe that if there is an area of concern, I need to, unlike most BMW drivers, signal my intent. So I need to say to you, I have a concern that I’d like to talk to you about is now a good time for you. Because within that, you know, hang on, there’s something come in here that you might not like. But I’ve also said is now a good time for you. So I’m kind of demonstrating respect towards you. Whereas just going so how do you think things are going? I just think it’s almost like you’re waiting for them to say, You know what, Ian? I’m so glad you’ve asked me because personally, I think I’m rubbish. I don’t think I’m doing very well with it. So people are not going to do that. No, no. If you have a concern, eyeball to eyeball kneecap to kneecap I have a concern that I’d like to talk to you about. This is what my concern is, and I wonder if together we can find a way of moving forward so that we’re both happy with the outcome?

Ian Hogg 
Yeah, no, I think it’s, I’ve often heard it called the clarity test. It’s, you know, there’s like the there’s a sort of Hugh Grant approach, which is, oh, if it’s not too much difficulty, you know, could you possibly, but you actually don’t say what you want the person to do sort of mumble through it was the clarity test is sort of short, succinct, and leaves both parties clear on what was said. And

Andrea Newton 
Because, you know, isn’t that what we want?

Ian Hogg 
Yeah. But a lot of managers struggle to pass that clarity test, I think because they’re too polite, or were too British, sometimes.

Andrea Newton 
Yes, but that there’s another bit as well to that clarity, and that sometimes we are not clear about what we actually want. And in situations like that, it’s unfair of us to, you know, sort of put that responsibility on the other person. We often when times tight, we’re under pressure we’ve got a job to do. We often rely on assumptions and expectations. So I might say to Ian, can I leave this with you? Let me have it as soon as you can. I actually mean, before close of play tomorrow. You think I mean, sometime next week is fine. So the clarity is missing from there as well. And that’s why going back to your very first question, why are conversations so important? Because if people don’t have clarity, there is confusion, there’s chaos, times wasted energy and effort wasted. And then the manager gets frustrated, because Hang on, it’s Monday, and you’re still not done that for me, without realising that they’re, as soon as possible didn’t mean the same to me as it did to them.

Ian Hogg 
Now,  I know, these, we could go on. Because although it’s  not a simple, conversation, it’s a subject conversations, where we could go on for hours on this, Andrea, let’s move on to a little bit about the sort of, if you’d like, how you would work with somebody, so let’s suppose you’ve discussed it with me now, you’ve obviously realised that within fastP.A.Y.E, it’s probably a bit shambolic in the way that conversations are had. And there’s too much asking people how they feel, and not enough clarity. How would you if you were to come in and work with us? What, you know, what, where would you start? What sort of, what would your implementation activity look like in my company?

Andrea Newton 
Okay, I guess we always start with the end in mind, what does that look like? What do we need to get to? Where are we now where do we need to get to, and I work with organisations in lots of different ways, whether it’s in group sessions, whether it’s one to one coaching, whether it’s helping them to review, revise policies, and then help the managers understand and roll that out. So I work in so many different ways, which I guess is why I’ve done it for 21 years, because no two days are ever the same, really. And I’m also at the moment working on a lot of online programs, obviously, because of the recent challenges we’ve all had in terms of working from home, etc. I’m finding that more and more my clients are enjoying the time and opportunity to, you know, sort of do more and more stuff remotely. So there’s a whole variety of ways that I could help you. And I would also be recommending that you guys also listen to my podcast, which is Really Useful Conversations. Because every episode, we talk about something specific for managers, leaders, HR professionals, around conversations in the workplace.

Ian Hogg 
Excellent. Listen, we’ll definitely put a link in the podcast notes to that Andrea, as I said, we could probably go on for hours here, but I’m sure the listeners we’ve got other things to do with it time. But before I let you go, there’s one question I always ask. And that’s what book on media is giving you the most inspiration at the moment and why?

Andrea Newton 
Oh, that’s really an interesting question. What book or media I’m actually really enjoying at the moment. And this is a bit of a revisit for me. This isn’t new. I am revisiting a lot of the stuff by Brene. Brown.

Ian Hogg 
Had a recommendation for that last week

Andrea Newton 
Okay, there you go. Clearly, she’s such she’s in the air at the moment. I think because of a lot of things that have happened recently, obviously, with the pandemic and so on. And we’ve got things happening like the great resignation and some people refusing to return to work and people suddenly being a lot more mindful about wellbeing. I think a lot of the Brene Brown stuff, especially for leaders is really important right now.

Ian Hogg 
Okay, well listen, we could definitely put some links to some of her books in. Now, I, funnily enough, was recommended. I think my Amazon copy turned up but it’s, it’s on the pile of, it’s on the books I still need to read. So, so I can’t give a positive comment on that one.

Andrea Newton 
This one, that there’s one that, I’m sorry, there’s one that I would recommend, and that’s the dare to lead one where she talks about leaders being vulnerable and having the courage to be vulnerable. And, you know, part of that is is absolutely inherent in the significant conversations that I talked about.

Ian Hogg 
Excellent. We will definitely put a link to that in the notes. This has been great. You know, it’s, it’s not always nice to have a podcast guest, you know, pull me up live on air and it happens quite regularly, you would be surprised. So listen, thanks. Thanks for coming on. You’ve been great  and I’ll make sure that all the contact details are in . So if any of our listeners want to get in touch with you, they can. Thank you very much.

Andrea Newton 
Thanks, Ian. Thank you.

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