Skills Needed for Having Difficult Performance Conversations

From time to time, the people around you may not live up to your expectations. In a private setting, this might not be too troublesome, but in the workplace, where performance is essential for the organisation, you can’t just turn a blind eye to bad performance.

It is your responsibility as a leader to make sure your employee’s performance is aligned with the goals of your organisation. When this is not the case, you need to step up and have a conversation with your employee.

These conversations can be difficult to manage. Even before starting the conversation, many of us feel uncomfortable, not wanting to voice our concerns.

Strengthening your core conversation skills provides you with the confidence needed to feel comfortable voicing concerns and enables you to have effective performance conversations. These core conversation skills are: 

  1. Maintaining employee’s self-esteem
  2. Focusing on behaviours
  3. Encouraging employee participation
  4. Listening to motivate
  5. Managing difficult discussion

Once you are equipped with these skills, dealing with bad performance is no longer an uncomfortable and difficult task. So how can you equip yourself with these skills?

Building Core Skills for Conversations

When you put yourself in your employee's shoes, you will understand that your employee is probably unhappy about the fact that he or she isn’t living up to your performance expectations, too. The worst thing you can do then is to undermine your employee's self-esteem, for this will only make matters worse.

Maintain Self-Esteem

Anything you say or do now that makes your employee feel even worse than already, will not help solve the problem. In order for constructive change to take place, your employee needs your reassurance that you believe in his or her ability to raise their level of performance.

People may differ in the degree to which they have such needs, but it is crucial that their self-esteem his high, for this will make them feel confident, competent and useful. These are the feelings that will help them sort out their problems and rise in performance. If their self-esteem is low, they will feel incompetent, unworthy, inferior and maybe even helpless - and everyone knows these feelings aren’t the ones that lead to greater success.

As their leader, you need to understand the need to maintain and even enhance your employee’s self-esteem. Make sure to build their confidence in their ability to perform competently in the future. Keep this in mind not only when talking about performance, but also when you are planning, giving orders, delegating or disciplining.

Focus on Behaviours

When someone performs badly, it is easy for us to blame this on the person himself. In every situation though, performance is based on behaviours and other external factors of the situation.

In order to move forward, focus on the behaviours that can be changed instead of the attitude or personal characteristics of your employee. It is important to distinguish between the objective state (clear and verifiable) and the subjective state (murky and not open to verification). By focusing on behaviour, you are able to deal with your employee based on facts rather than opinions.

What is more, taking the time to examine your own behaviours is equally important. How are your behaviours affecting your employee’s performance? Are there some changes you can make, too?

Encourage Participation

Do you ask for your employee’s opinion or advice from time to time?

Making your employee feel valued by encouraging participation will satisfy their higher-level needs for self-esteem and self-actualisation. As a matter of fact, employees who work for participative leaders are almost always…

  • More readily accepting of responsibility, and
  • Able to maintain self-discipline more consistently

… compared to those led by authoritarian leaders.

Listen to Motivate

When you really listen to your employee, you are expressing to them

  • that they’re an important member of the team
  • their ideas and suggestions are welcomed
  • their experience is valuable to the organisation
  • and you will support them and back them up when necessary. 

By listening to your employee, you boost their motivation by helping to satisfy their need for recognition and self-esteem. The act of really listening shows them that you value them.

Knowing that you are open to their suggestions, your employee will be motivated to put more energy and creative thought to work.

Manage Difficult Discussion

This is what you can do to manage the difficult discussion:

  • Be the one to open the communication
  • Acknowledge your employee’s willingness to talk
  • Set a time limit for your conversation
  • Paraphrase each other’s comments
  • Build a relationship
  • Have the courage to be wrong
  • Understand the emotional component
  • Consolidate the gains and recommit to each other

These are the core skills you need in order to have that conversation about bad performance with your employee. Keep in mind that whatever projections you put onto your employee are likely to self-fulfil, as the theory of X and Y by Douglas McGregor suggests.

Do you believe that your employee is able to perform better and will manage to stretch him or herself to raise their performance? Or have you already given up on them? Even if you don’t express this verbally, your perception and impression of your employee’s capability will have an effect on their actual performance.

Other posts you may be interested in...