How Managers Can Make Difficult Performance Conversations Better

How to make difficult performance conversations better without yelling

Most managers (me included) dread difficult performance conversations with their direct reports and are willing to take advice about how to make difficult performance conversations better.

Whether it is delivering bad news or firing an employee, the most upsetting performance conversations are the ones that evoke anger, yelling, accusations, defensiveness or tears.  There are countless performance management communication tools and techniques available to help make performance management discussions better. They range from better listening to being more empathetic to being more direct. These effective performance management communication tools help managers avoid the following common mistakes of:

  • oversimplifying the issue
  • not showing enough respect
  • getting too personal
  • not gathering enough data
  • making bad assumptions
  • not having enough empathy or compassion

Avoiding these common mistakes will certainly help. But, we find that they do not address the root cause of most difficult performance conversations – a lack of clear performance expectations.

Employees tell us, and research on high performance teams backs up their request, that they need performance expectations that have the following five key attributes:

  1. Clear and understood by all team members
  2. Credible and relevant to the individual, their boss, their team and the company as a whole
  3. Consistent and timely
  4. Perceived as fair
  5. Trusted

You would be shocked to learn how often performance metrics do not meet these criteria.  No wonder most people dread performance conversations.  If people do know know or trust where they stand, performance conversations will be fraught with politics, emotions and the crisis of the moment.

Before you invest in performance management training, conversations or systems, make sure that your performance metrics for success meet the above five criteria. You will be happily surprised that, with these criteria in place, most difficult performance conversations will become magically unnecessary.

To learn more about how to create a high performance environment, please download Do You Have a High Performance Culture? 

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