Don't Dodge Discomfit

In our August video blog, PDA's Sarah Vogel shares insights from conversations with clients about how putting yourself into uncomfortable situations is crucial.

If you avoid discomfit, then current problems can turn into bigger situations. Grievances and disciplinary situations that could have been prevented are allowed to develop their own momentum.

Sarah looks at how conversations and mediation can play key parts in allowing organisations to get out of a potential grievance culture. And the ability to lean into discomfit is part of individual people's and their organisation's strengths. 

14 Years of making sure conversations are #Fierce

Susan Scott and her team at Fierce Inc are celebrating 14 years of Fierce Conversations. Susan has led the drive to make conversations in the workplace really meaningful: helping people communicate more effectively in every aspect of their lives.  

In this podcast, Susan looks at the personal challenges that lay behind the creation of Fierce, and its transformational ideas and principles. And she looks to the future of leadership where connectivity and transparency will be key. You can find out about our next Fierce workshops here.



Stop the silence: turn grievances into conversations

PDA's Sarah Vogel gives her thoughts on how organisations need to aim for a ‘non grievance culture' where people in conflict talk to each other.  

Often in organisations, when problems arise in relationships between individuals and formal grievance procedures kick in, the people with a conflicted relationship are told not to talk to each other.


Line managers’ fear of not adhering to internal procedures also means that any attempt to sit down and talk about the conflict doesn’t happen.


I think that has to change.


Trying to resolve issues, by telling people not to talk to each other, seems to be plain illogical.


And the vast majority of ‘grievance’ cases taken out just do not work in resolving conflicted situations.


Organisations need to make it easier for people to informally resolve things. There needs to be a drive towards a ‘non grievance’ culture where the last thing we ever think of is to throw grievances around like confetti whenever we are upset by something or someone.


Leaders need to be courageous in nipping things in the bud and encourage a culture of transparency and openness in their own teams, with their colleagues and peers and of course up the line to senior execs.


The Harvard Business Review article ‘A culture of candor’ by James O’Toole and the late Warren Bennis is brilliant at naming this issue. We often recommend it to clients. In it, Bennis and O’Toole point out:


"This task begins with creating norms and structures that sanction truth telling. Such organizational practices as open-door policies, ombudsmen, protection for whistle-blowers, and internal blogs that give voice to those at the bottom of the hierarchy can help”


Mediation can be part of this drive away from a grievance culture. It helps to create a safe space to explore the roots of the conflict and also what needs to happen to resolve it. You can learn more here.


Training leaders and managers to have clear, honest and direct conversations can really help build their confidence, which is hugely important in helping them to grasp the nettle and get on with difficult conversations.


I believe if we can help managers and leaders drive this culture change, it can help improve productivity, attendance, engagement and retention, and create a culture where people do not fear feedback, and talk things through, openly and honestly. Before it gets so bad that things crash and burn.


It is heartbreaking when we are called in to help an organisation resolve a conflict and it emerges that the situation has been brewing or festering for years. All that time living with upset, stress, hindered performance and compromised results could have been avoided if things had been tackled sooner and differently.


Part of me understands that sometimes people may feel threatened by each other or afraid of speaking out, but I think organisations could help to facilitate informal resolution conversations rather than just keep people apart.


Keeping people silent won't work.


The first steps in mediation.

In the first of a series of blogs on mediation, we look at the initial steps in the process.  

What if the working relationship between two people in an organisation breaks down? Mediation can be a solution, and is one of the key services that PDA offers.


An organisation may ask for help when a working relationship is in difficulty, communication is stilted or has stopped entirely.


And many organisations now use mediation as part of their grievance process.


The mediator will tell the participants about the process, and then to invite them to voluntarily participate.


David Cripps, PDA's director leading our mediation services, says:


“This is very important. Each individual’s involvement in mediation needs to be voluntary. Mediation will not work if one side is forced into the process.”


The mediator will also find out about the conflict, and before proceeding, ensure that this is a situation that can be potentially helped through mediation.


If both parties agree to take part in the mediation, they will receive a confidentiality contract, and arrangements will be made to arrange the mediation day.


Expectations and approaches around mediation are all important. Mediation is commonly described in terms of conflict resolution, or resolving conflict. The other way of describing mediation is talk in terms of conflict engagement.


That’s the way it has been described by Professor Bernard Mayer, who practises, studies and writes about mediation.


David Cripps says: “I think Bernard Mayer’s ideas that mediation should be about engaging with the conflict are very important.”


If you only talk in terms of getting a resolution you might solely focus on achieving an outcome without properly addressing the underlying conflict: seeing what is about, what is driving it. This might then result in just a short term resolution rather than a lasting outcome.”

"It is's ALWAYS personal!" by Sarah Vogel

Got talking

I sat next to a man on the train yesterday and inevitably (I am an extravert you knowww!) we got chatting about ‘what we did for a living’: he was an engineer by profession, a contracts manager on the railways, and was on his way to a monthly meeting with his client in South Yorks.


 "Sorry we are letting you go"

As we chatted he started to tell me about a man he had worked for many years previously: a senior manager who had a reputation (well deserved it seemed) for being an unpleasant man and one people didn’t like to work with. My new friend recounted that at one stage he had been involved in several redundancy meetings chaired by this senior manager. In these “sorry we are letting you go” meetings, as soon as the redundant person became distressed, he always said “It’s not personal!”


He said that hearing this stock response over and over again made him feel sick. He told me: “changing someone’s life like that in an instant IS personal!”


Every time he was in a meeting and heard the man say those words, it rankled and angered him until one day he decided he could work for him no longer and left for another job.


If I stopped the story there it would be a great example of people leaving managers not organisations…and also how things change gradually, then suddenly. But there was more…


Consider everything is Personal as a Manager

The man proceeded to tell me how that whole experience had changed him as a manager and changed him as a person. He told me how he knew he was a better manager nowadays, considering everything he did with his team as ‘personal’, relationship orientated, human. He was committed to always putting the people issues first.


Shooting myself in the foot a little here but I love hearing how people learn these big important things, NOT on courses but as part of their every day life experiences.


Top 5 things to help managers deal with underperformance


Karen Findlay (HR Manager at St Monica Trust) and Sarah Vogel ( Co-director at People Development Associates) share their best tips…



1. Develop a positive mind set about tackling things


Many managers fear the worst and worry ‘what will happen if…’ In fact they almost certainly fantasise in their darker moments that world war 3 will break out if they dare to tackle x about their performance


So why are these kind of conversations avoided? Popular reasons we get told are:


It will make it worse: I don’t want to open up the can of worms

it will spoil the team atmosphere

They have too much on their plate right now to deal with this

I have too much on MY plate right now to deal with this

No one’s ever told x before, why should I (how should I??)

I don’t have time to plan how to get the conversation right


The likelihood is it is almost certainly costing managers more NOT to tackle it, (in terms of lost business, team morale, the insidious spread of underperformance, their own reputation) than it would to tackle it and get it resolved. So before you even begin, develop a positive mind set about the conversation.


After all, what we all want is to bring about a resolution. What could be bad about resolving things? A good, healthy confrontation conversation is not about ‘giving someone a good telling off, putting them straight or getting it off your chest’. It is about both parties explaining their side of things and having some space and time to work out together how to resolve it.


Remember: the mind set you take into the conversation, will affect the results you get.


2. Talk it through with your line manager and HR


An early conversation about underperformance can often avoid cases developing into formal processes. So as soon as under performance is spotted talk it through with your manager and or HR. Consider what options you have and how best to have the conversation with the individual.


Ask your manager and or HR about how they think this person may react and what strategies you could adopt to deal with these. Be clear what the support mechanisms for you are in this. Canvas their support. Often people fear taking a performance case to the formal stages as they worry they will not get the backup they need, and this may be unfounded.


So DO talk it through with someone who’s not involved. Ask them to challenge your reality and perception. Rarely does the worst happen. Our catastrophic imaginings can just be a reason to continue to leave it, letting it grow, build and spread….


3. Become skilled at having ‘the conversation’


Many people fear fluffing it up in the first minutes of a conversation.


Look at the 7 Fierce principles and think about which ones could help you. Consider where you want to start your conversation. Practise saying out loud what you want to say. Ask an independent person to listen to what you plan to say and tell you how it sounds.  Remember you will need to be light on your feet when handling the resulting conversation. You can’t script the whole thing (which under confident managers will want to do), you have to stay connected and use your intuition, and work out together what the next steps will be. Most of all master the courage to interrogate THEIR reality.


4. Get support as you take someone through a process to improve their capability


Anyone who’s ever had to take a member of their team through a capability process knows it is a bumpy and arduous road to travel: energy sapping, time draining and generally not on anyone’s ‘fun things to do at work’ list. But remember, successful outcomes are reached ‘one conversation at a time, gradually then suddenly’ and hanging in there in this long game of performance improvement is exactly what we need to do and support managers in doing.


One of our clients who has been really successful at sustaining a great positive performance culture runs ‘performance clinics’ for any managers having to take someone through capability. They get to meet up and discuss how it is going with HR, let off steam, get support (and constructive challenge if they want it) and generally realise they are not alone.


Remember it’s like joining the under performer at their bus stop and taking them on the journey to get them to where you need them to be.



5. Practise what you preach


Any organisation wanting to develop a performance culture where it is safe for anyone to raise issues, where people are encouraged and supported to resolve them as quickly and effectively as possible and where it generally feels like the Mokita* count is low, also needs to make sure that there is an upward flow of feedback too.


Do you encourage team members to tell you when they are off track? Are your  teams encouraged to name the unnameable? Are real issues raised and tackled at meetings?


If not, then managers in middle or first line positions will not feel best able to tackle their own teams and individuals. Leaders in the organisation may need to demonstrate by example that they too do what they are asking others to do. Attend the same training, be in the room, ‘here, prepared to be nowhere else’ and ask tough questions like


‘what’s getting in the way of our success and happiness?

What would you do if you were in my shoes?


*Mokita: a Maori word meaning ‘that which is known but never talked about’

Dates for your Spangly new calendar

The dates for the 2013 PDA workshops are below, the venues are yet to be confirmed and we will make sure the details are on the website as soon as we have booked them. We will no doubt be visiting our friends at The Studio, Birmingham and Manchester and if you have any suggestions for great venues across the UK then please do let me know!  

Fierce Conversations 2 day Workshop

March 19th/20th Birmingham

June 11th/12th Manchester

September 24th/25th London

December 3rd/4th Birmingham


Influencing Skills 2 day Workshop Venue TBC

May 1st/2nd

July 23rd/24th

Oct 16th/17th


You can book a place on


Recovering from setbacks

Is it one of those perpetual things that we no sooner recover from one trauma only to be presented with another? My husband recently bought a Tshirt which has "OMG Drama" on it and he pointedly said he bought it because of me. It got me thinking " do I really turn everything into a drama?". My concern is that if everything I am working on is a drama then I am continually recovering from setbacks. This is a huge energy zapper and also character building to boot and it does highlight something that may need clarifying at this point. What might seem to be a setback to me is different to what you perceive as a setback and therefore the recovering from it will be different for each of us. I think its safe to say that a setback is anything that puts us off our track, makes us stumble, fall or trip, shows us emotions that we weren't expecting. It can make a pause a little or stop us dead. Whichever it is this chapter is going to help you recover from your setbacks - I cant promise you'll never have them but when they happen, your recovery will be swifter and more elegant.  

Would it be too simple to say " get back up dust yourself down and get back on track? " Yes and there are ways to help you do that. Consider that you dont have to be 100% perfect 100% of the time, its alright to mess up. Someone once said to me that to make change things have to get messy and I think in many cases thats true. What you do have to do is commit to hanging around in the mess, working out what needs to happen next and then work on it. This allows your energies to be used by something other than the embarassment or trauma of the setback and physically moves you on. There are so many methods of commuincation now that setbacks can indeed happen quickly but they can also be recovered from quickly. Use whatever tools you have to get back on track.


So thats a practical thread to something that may have happened - an overheard conversation, an appraisal mess up, a presentation thats dried up. What about an internal set back with no third party? Where you have done yourself a disservice? Well, you could apply the above tips to yourself, be kind and cajoling, get a coaching session booked in, go for a run or run a warm bath. Whatever it takes to show yourself a bit of moving on. Remember that in order to learn from the setback you need to be able to look at it from a different angle - you can't see your dress sense in the moment only in the photographic evidence after! Likwise with ourselves it can be difficult to work out what has actually happened when we are still in it so you have to move somewhere and then have a look. Were there signs that you misread or didnt tune into? ( see Using Intuition). Were you gradually suddenly? Spend some time by all means looking at the build up and what you might do differently next time and then think about the next bit - the recovery.



How quickly you can recover depends alot on your self esteem and how much you want to recover ( some people appear content in a constant state of setback, if they are then so be it but its not for everyone). The chapter on building core strength so important and much like your health and fitness generally, if you spend time and energy on that then you will be much fitter and able to recover quickly from the inevitable setbacks that happen on the way. If your relationships are real, authentic, current and you are being honest with yourself and those around you then you will be able to deal with any setback that occurs.