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When that “Exit Interview” Opens the Door to being “Real”

Published: September 9, 2019

“I had the best conversation with my boss yesterday,” a friend shared with me over the weekend. “We spoke for over three hours. I was able to give him feedback on the leadership team and ideas on how we could make improvements,” he sounded happier than he'd been in months.

“Sounds like a breakthrough,” I said.

“Totally,” he said. “He was open to listening and realizing where there were some issues that needed to be addressed to help the team work more effectively. We talked about specific situations where people weren’t being held accountable and how it was hurting morale at the office.”

“That’s terrific,” I said.

He nodded. “Yep, he was also frank in sharing where my attitude and approach didn’t help. He made some great points. It was an amazing conversation and I saw a side of him that I didn’t realize ever existed.”

It was great hearing how excited he was. “So, where do you go from here?” I asked.

He laughed. “Well, the conversation came about because I was giving my notice to go work for another firm. You know what? I think that If I could have had this conversation earlier, I probably wouldn’t be leaving.”

Does this scenario sound familiar?

Why do we wait to have some of our most honest, constructive conversations on our way out the door?

Certainly, there are a number of factors at work here. Because this was essentially an “exit” interview, my friend saw this as a “psychologically safe” environment where he could express himself with a candor and transparency that he didn’t feel he could share in the past.

The boss was in a different place, too. With my friend saying he was leaving, the boss could relax and listen with more genuine curiosity and empathy. He didn’t feel defensive or the need to make automatic excuses for the way things were run.

The conversation was honest, powerful and the feedback led to new ideas and strategies and yet it was their last conversation as colleagues.

No one wants to wait until they’re eyeing the exit door before they can be themselves. It’s not good for managers, either.


In the corporate world, too often we are caught up with so many internal and external processes that drive business, but we lose sight of the human side of how we communicate. With the avalanche of data, metrics and ego our work has become more “siloed” in nature than ever before. This has us spending more time and energy in “looking good” and “keeping the peace” rather than challenging corporate norms and sharing feedback. Our conversations have become stale and less challenging leaving us “stuck” in the status quo. Shifting into a more proactive, open and collaborative conversational strategy can help revive relationships and renew partnerships with more focus and energy.

Leaders, before you lose that next valued team member, here are three questions to ask yourself as you assess your conversational strategies:

  1. In your conversations, do you welcome open and honest feedback to allow for the constant
    learning and growing that is so needed in today’s everchanging marketplace?
  2. Are you comfortable approaching areas where there is disagreement realizing that it is through
    disagreements that we find creativity and innovation?
  3. Do you know how to create the “safety” needed to help manage the emotions that often come
    from meaningful conversations?

As an Executive Coach and Sales trainer, my work is all about initiating and managing meaningful, proactive conversations. I help train leaders and sales professionals in knowing how to connect in today’s busy workplace through coaching, skill building and emotional intelligence training.

Communication that creates more trust, alignment and innovation results in a more FOCUSED, SALES DRIVEN and COLLABORATIVE workplace where people feel valued and want to give more.

And no one has to quit to make this happen.

Categories: Leadership, Team

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