How To Drastically Improve Difficult Performance Conversations

How To Drastically Improve Difficult Performance Conversations
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Difficult Performance Conversations Are No Fun — and All Too Common

Most managers (including me) dread difficult performance conversations with their direct reports and are willing to try almost anything to avoid or improve them.  Whether it is delivering bad news, discussing sensitive subjects, or firing an employee, the most upsetting performance conversations are the ones that evoke anger, yelling, accusations, defensiveness, or tears.

As appealing as it seems to avoid a potential confrontation with a coworker, high performing team leaders are adept at managing conflict in a way that creates clarity, trust, and accountability.

There Are Countless Tools and Techniques Available
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.  Used correctly, they can all help make difficult conversations about performance more productive.

The Six Most Common Difficult Performance Conversation Mistakes
When we ask people managers during new manager training or ask employees to list the most frustrating and ineffective aspects of ineffective performance conversations at work, six rise to the surface:

  • Oversimplifying the issue
  • Not showing enough respect
  • Getting too personal
  • Not gathering enough data
  • Making bad assumptions
  • Not having enough empathy or compassion

Addressing the True Root Cause of Difficult Performance Conversations — Bad Performance Expectations
Avoiding these common mistakes will certainly help. But, we find that they often do not address the root cause of most difficult performance conversations a lack of clear performance expectations.

Five Attributes of Effective 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

Most Performance Expectations are Unclear
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.

The Bottom Line
Before you invest in performance management training, action learning leadership development, communication skills, or systems to improve performance conversations at work, 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 with clear performance expectations, download Do You Have a High Performance Culture? 

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