The career conversations you should be having


It’s likely that you’re invited into conversations about your performance, wellbeing, or development as a key component of your organisation’s People strategy.

When done with clarity and purpose, career conversations are an opportunity for discovery, growth, and change. But we can sometimes feel like passive recipients of a process that’s bestowed on us, rather than active agents of our own development.

How can you influence these conversations so that they accelerate your development and at the same time align with organisational goals?

How can you shape them so that your needs for challenge, growth, learning, and reward are met?

When we’re under pressure – and let’s be honest, a career conversation can be a challenge – we might over rely on one or two behaviours that feel comfortable. Success is going to depend on being able to use a broad range of behaviours.

You need to:

  • be clear what you want
  • give and receive feedback
  • share ideas, opinions, and feelings
  • explore and listen to the needs of the other person.

The secret to impactful career conversations is behavioural agility.

1.    Before: Plan to be agile

2.    In the moment: Staying flexible

3.    Afterwards: Opportunities to learn



1. Before: Plan to be agile


Set a clear influence objective

What do you want your manager to say or do as a result of the conversation.

Be specific.

Asking for their ‘commitment’ isn’t enough. What does commitment look like?

  • Enrolment on a course?
  • An emailed invitation to a conference?
  • A slot to present your idea at the next leadership meeting?

1. Before: Plan to be agile


Prepare for how you’re going to use Push and Pull behaviours

In Push

  • What proposals do you have, and does your reasoning address your manager’s priorities?
  • What have you enjoyed about your recent work – projects, people, stretch opportunities, environment?
  • Is there anything you haven’t enjoyed?
  • What do you want next? When do you want it to happen? What support will you need to achieve that?

1. Before: Plan to be agile


Prepare for how you’re going to use Push and Pull behaviours

In Pull

  • What questions do you have? What don’t you know? What are you curious about?
  • What common ground do you share with your manager? What do you agree on? What complementary skills do you have? What hopes do you both have for the future?

2. In the moment: Staying flexible


How we work together

At the start of the meeting agree expectations for the conversation. How long do you both have? What do each of you want to focus on? How will you record the conversation?

Use Push behaviours to be clear on your own hopes for the meeting and Pull to draw out the expectations of the other person.

2. In the moment: Staying flexible



On the receiving end of feedback stay curious about what you’re hearing. It can be easy to get defensive when you hear something you don’t like or disagree with. Curiosity in the form of open questions and listening behaviours will help you understand the reasons for the feedback, and the impact will be that you are willing to learn and grow.

If you catch yourself pushing back against challenging feedback, you could decide to disengage from the conversation: ‘I notice that I’m getting defensive, I want to take a short break and then explore this feedback with you.’

And feedback is a two-way street. Be clear what you have valued about the way you have worked together, or what you have struggled with. Remember the intention here is to reinforce the things you like and to change the things you don’t like, so that you can have a productive and enjoyable relationship in the future.

2. In the moment: Staying flexible


What You Want

If you’ve done some preparation and thought about what you want to say then you can focus on your music and dance. What do you need to pay attention to so that you enhance your impact? Do you need to slow down, maintain strength to the end of each sentence, maintain eye contact, put both feet on the floor?

State your expectations and then wait for a response. If you don’t get agreement, consider what you can offer as an incentive that will be of value to the other person.

2. In the moment: Staying flexible


Closing the Conversation

Success! You’ve had a great conversation. You’ve shared feedback, built understanding, and secured support for the next stage in your career.

Make sure you close with strength and purpose. Summarise the outcomes. Briefly evaluate the meeting. Share expectations for follow up actions. It can be tempting to keep talking and undermine your success, or leave having diminished your impact. Once you’ve closed the conversation in a purposeful way, leave.

3. Afterwards: Opportunities to learn


These conversations are a great learning opportunity. You set out to be agile. Were you successful?

Look back at your preparation. How did you do? Did you ask the questions you wanted to ask? Did you clearly state what you wanted? Did you share your own feedback? Were your proposals concise?

Did you meet objectives? And do you feel that you’ve built a stronger relationship?

Thinking about your use of Push and Pull behaviours, where did you spend most time? Was it easy to move between different behaviours or did you get stuck in one?

What impact did you want to have and how do you think you did?

What worked well?

What would you do differently next time?

With the financial year closing and performance conversations on the agenda for many, you can get a head start with a free skills practice session.

Running on March 6 and 7, and available to all our programme alumni, the theme is career conversations. Bring your own situation or use one of our scenarios to practice, get feedback, and prepare for success.

Book your place

Free Alumni sessions: 6 and 7 March