How many people at work do you talk with on an average day? Think of all the mobile calls, meetings, corridor chats, and coffees or lunch with colleagues, customers or clients. Most of the time we get along fine with people and, if we differ, it’s harmonious. Yet, our focus is usually on the what because we are such busy people, aren’t we? We like to get things done and we haven’t got time for all that pink n fluffy stuff about how we converse with people. Until we have those difficult performance conversations.

Not pink n fluffy!

performance conversationsThese are the ones we’ve been avoiding or where we know ‘they’ or we are not going to like it and we fear a confrontation. Someone isn’t delivering or pulling their weight, is being disruptive or de-motivated. Far from being pink and fluffy, performance conversations can be grey and spiky. And poor managers often pay lip service.

Why are they difficult? Usually, because of a difference of opinion or fact and we haven’t invested in building rapport to develop the relationship first. That’s when we understand each other better and acknowledge our peculiarities and limitations.

Without approaching them with thought and preparation, you can easily get off on the wrong foot, the emotional temperature rises quickly, leading to a battle of the messages, stalemate and bad feeling all around.

Now, you are in a worse position than when you started. Recovering the situation can take more time and effort and have a negative impact on everyone’s stress levels. Performance suffers as you get diverted from business priorities. And the opportunity costs rarely get considered.

Far from pink n fluffy, mastering a challenging performance conversation has huge benefits in improving underperformance, motivation, and retention.

It takes skill and the right mindset to have healthy contention. So, here are some tips to build your confidence and capability.

Become more CAPABLE

  • Curious – Adopt a mindset of curiosity rather than protecting your position. Dig deeper to find out what’s going on in their world. Use what’s in the room – the words, demeanour, and behaviours of the person in front of you. What are they not saying?
  • Aware – How OK you are feeling about going into the conversation. Do you own your position and feel confident about it? What is the mindset of the other person? Do you see them as OK or is your attitude ‘they need fixing’, ‘I’m right, they’re wrong’? Stay in adult mode – calm, level tone, rational, focusing on the issue rather than judging the other person.
  • Prepared – Ask your peers, their colleagues and even customers for feedback on their performance so you can present timely and relevant evidence of under-performance. Observe the behaviours of every team member. Create space in your diary to reflect on their performance. How are they likely to respond to your feedback on underperformance? How will you respond? Rehearse with someone.
  • Adaptable – No amount of preparation can completely cover all eventualities. Think on your feet. Adapt to tears, anger, and silence by reminding yourself of your original objective of the conversation. Pause, stop for a break or rearrange the meeting for when emotions are less raw.
  • Bold – Be straight-forward, don’t dodge the issue. Provide up-to-date evidence of underperformance. Explain the impact on you, others and the business. Tell them what you would like to see happen and the consequences of inaction. Own your feelings and position.
  • Leverage – Build on the positives and success so far. Don’t undo progress by over-focusing on an issue if the relationship hits a setback.
  • Empathetic – Listen to genuinely understand their frame of reference and view of the world. Let them know verbally and through your body language.

Capable managers know that performance conversations are tough and far from pink n fluffy.

Can your job or business afford not to master those grey and spiky performance conversations?