I have scheduled O3's with all seven of my Directs and we've had 8 or 9 weeks of them now. Admittedly, some of those weeks were VERY short meetings. We were in the busiest crunch time of the entire company and this department especially. During the last two weeks of that crunch time, I don't think I had an O3 with a DR that lasted longer than 15 mins, with a record only 3 minutes - essentially just a "touch base" kind of conversation.

My issue has been that there's one DR who has some pretty serious personal issues going on (divorce, ugly custody battle, multiple court dates) so we haven't been talking about her career development prospects or options simply because she doesn't want to get too distracted, doesn't think she can handle big changes at work, etc.

Additionally, she is an "English as Second Language" speaker and I'm finding that she doesn't seem to be terribly comfortable communicating over the phone. Additionally, in the "getting to know each other" survey we all participated in, she said that the best way to get in touch with her was email and instant message (not the phone.)

As such, there's very little for us to talk about. For the most part, her work has been great. She keeps her head down and plows through it. No client escalations. No late order acceptances. No delinquent accounts. There's hardly anything I can come up with for "My 10 Minutes" during the O3 (beyond a recap similar to the above, with "great job, good to see, thanks, keep it up") and she always says "I don't have anything for you."

We're looking at 5-10 minute O3's as a result and I feel like I'm failing her somehow.

What can I do to improve this situation?

All of my other DR's generally use the full 1/2 hour for the O3s and it's kind of nice. This one's got me completely stumped though. ANY help or insight would be greatly appreciated!

hyubdoo23's picture

Non-native speakers of English (or any language) can feel self-conscious about any perception of lack of fluency. Speaking a foreign language on the phone rather than in person puts the non-native speaker at a disadvantage, as you have removed the paralinguistic features (facial expressions, gestures, etc) that can aid comprehension. On the phone, she has to rely solely on her linguistic ability, and is very eager to present as best she can, and so can be nervous and look to keep the conversation as brief as possible. This is also why she might prefer IM and email - it gives her time to comprehend and compose an answer, whereas telephone communications require her to think on her feet.

What about sending her an email or IM before the O3 to let her know what you want to cover? If she has a "script", then she will be able to plan ahead a little and be more confident - it might help you get more detail, and encourage her to speak at greater length.

Also, how do you break the ice with her on the phone? A few introductory questions about family, weather, familiar topics like that, give her a chance to get comfotable on the phone so that she can communicate more easily when you get down to business.

Hope this helps.


bflynn's picture

I know this is a really old thread, but I'm going to bump it because I have exactly the same problem and having read through the past threads I can find, I don't see much in the way of solutions.

My direct doesn't speak English as their native language, but their English is good.  Believe it or not, this actually describe ALL my directs, so I'll leave out the country they're from in case one of them is reading in here.  O3s are uncomfortable because there isn't much to talk about.  The person is very competent, but has no desire to advance, no desire to even get a promotion.  If they spend the next 20 years doing exactly the same thing, they are fine with that.  So, our O3 today went like this:

Me: So, how's it going.

Direct: Yeah, Ok (normal response)

Me: What did you do on the <customer> project this week

Direct: wrote some code

Me: Well, what was the code about?  What area did it cover and why do they need it?

Direct: oh, it's just some code, they need it to cover custom requirements.

Me: What did it do?

Direct: it covered the custom requirements

And on and on - even open ended questions don't get more than a sentence answer and many times it's just 2-3 words.  So we struggle through this for five minutes trying to find something that will get some talking going on.  I've got a little to deliver in terms of tweaks to the bonus plan, a reminder of pending reviews.  There are no questions and we're done in under 10 minutes.

I've tried talking about things outside work, our industry, news happening in town, even the weather and I just get nothing.  There was a tornado near their house (5 miles) the other night and the response was "No, I didn't hear any wind, it was quiet".  Really?  Because where I was , it was thundering from about 9pm to midnight .

I don't understand.  Maybe English isn't so good(tic)?  Passive Agressive?  Just a dull personality?




Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

...any of those things.

How long has this been going on?


afmoffa's picture

but I used to be an ESL teacher, and I found that during my teacher-student conferences, there were WIDE ranges of communication styles, often depending upon the cultural background of my students.

One need only look at the news in the past few weeks to realize that, in large swaths of the world, a frank and candid exchange of opinions with one's superiors is a ticket to jail. As a teacher was 22 years old, smiling and cracking jokes, and I had students twice my age sitting stone-faced in our conferences, giving me name-rank-serial number kind of answers: "Yes, I like the lesson." "No, I have no suggestions." "Yes, I am happy." These were students who I knew could read/speak at a fifth-grade level, so it wasn't a language barrier. Most of us know fifth graders who are capable of joshing with their teachers and even speaking truth to power when the mood hits.

It will probably take a long time and a lot of patience to get the level of rapport you're looking for. I'd suggest you play up any positive feedback you can give them. Do a little reading on the political culture your directs are coming from, too. People are individuals, and it'd be wrong to say everyone who grows up in a place feels the same way about power structures, but culture is a big part of the mix. 

mnannini's picture

... I feel the same way as well. I've been doing O3s for 6 weeks now and I've been facing the same kind of answers from one of my guys. I also think that time will help establishing a better relationship.

How are you supposed to introduce non-work talks with your directs when they obviously think we are going to talk about work ? It feels un-appropriate for me to start a conversation with non-work questions. It feels like the manager does not really want to work.

My strategy is to keep the O3s going until closer and closer relationship builds itself. Am I on tracks ?


bflynn's picture

Sorry for the slow response - 2-3 months since I started O3s.  There's never been high engagement.

One of the challenges is that this direct isn't working on my there's nothing I can really do for them.  They've been here for a long time, know the job, know how to do it and they're comfortable with it.  Generally viewed as a good performer...not top 80%, but well above the 50% mark. 

So part of this is - why is a manager even needed for this person?  There's nothing I can do that they can't do for themselves except give them a review and an occasional raise.

RichRuh's picture
Licensee BadgeTraining Badge

There's a quote I've heard from Mark:  "If all you ever do is your job, your job is all you will ever do."  

Does this person have any aspirations for something greater- or even just different?  Does your company require any new skills from their direct? More productivity?  Can your direct really just get by as a good but not great performer until they retire?

If the rest of the team is growing, and this person isn't, your direct won't be a good performer for long. 

If the rest of the team isn't growing... I hope you are a competitor of mine. ;-)



bflynn's picture

Simply put - nope, the person doesn't have any aspirations beyond the prospect of a very long term job.  And they are so far ahead of the "average" that it's going to be 10 years before they're just average, if ever.  And that assumes the rest of the team sticks around for 10 years, which in our business is highly unlikely.  To be honest, if I had an entire team like this person, it would be the best team in the company.

The job is some point, you become a really good programmer and there just isn't any way to get better.  Now it's about execution.  As long as the person continues to execute, what do they need?

I'm not trying to talk myself out of managing them, I'm questioning what I can do to add to thier value.

JulieGeek's picture

Bflynn--you mentioned "things outside work, our industry, news happening in town, even the weather". How about things that might be interesting to them? Read up a bit on their home culture(s). Asking about cricket and soccer covers most of the rest of the civilized world. You can get a lot of mileage out of the World Cups. Cuisine? Have them show you where they grew up on Google Earth. What's happening in their home countries?

What did they do this past weekend? Kids? Pets? Hobbies?

And, perhaps more importantly, what do they want to do next? You've mentioned that they're awesome programmers--what's the next big thing?  NewspeakClojureKodu, Coherence, Frink, Factor? Do they follow on-line forums? Do they post to on-line forums? What are their ratings? What are they asking/answering?

Just a few ideas.