Managers often need to have difficult or uncomfortable conversations to ensure the development and learning within their businesses. In part one, we looked at approaching the first three types of difficult conversations. Read on if you would like to hear my thoughts on approaching some less than standard conversations that can cause managers to delay, avoid or feel immense tension and discomfort.
Conversation Four: The “No I’m Better Than That” Conversation
Many managers have encountered an employee who believes that their performance is much better than it really is. This can be a really tough conversation as the manager feels that he or she will be only giving bad news and the employee will hear pure criticism without getting any positive feedback. An employee in such situations might respond with anger, tears, and allegations of unfairness, inequity, discrimination or bullying. No wonder that many managers dread this conversation! Even if the performance is on target, it can be hard to tell a person they are satisfied when they think they are superior.
The best way to approach this conversation is to (as always) have examples and perspectives that highlight why you as manager believe that the employee is performing below the level they think they are performing at. In terms of starting the conversation, it’s important that you avoid telling – that will just get into the two different points of view. This needs to be like a coaching conversation where you encourage the employee to view their performance from different perspectives and begin to understand that their view may not be only one, or the accurate one.
So how can you do that? Consider opening with the question:
“Based on the effort you are putting into your work, are you satisfied with the results that you are achieving?”
In many instances, the employee will be looking for more results and feedback, so when they say no, you have a coaching opportunity to help the person explore why others may have a different view of their performance and results. If the employee thinks their results are fine for the effort they are putting in, you as their manager need to be able to say something like:
“Well, as the manager of this team I get to observe how your role and contribution fits into a broader perspective and I’d like to share that with you now.”
The intent of this statement is to reinforce to the employee that their view of their work and output is only one part of the overall perspective. Remember that this can also be a highly emotional conversation as the employee may feel threatened or exposed, so whilst you need to be alert to that it is no reason to allow yourself to be bullied or harassed by the employee.
Conversation Five: Dealing with the “People’s Lawyer”
The “People’s Lawyer” is the person who knows all of the rules, policies, obligations, and requirements to the letter, and who will seek to argue a point to its infinite conclusion on the basis of the finest detail. The most important thing to do is not get caught up in the argument and the fine detail – of course, you had done your thorough preparation and know that what you are suggesting and doing is within the guidelines and policies of the company and the state/country. Sometimes the purpose of starting this detailed debate is to distract you from the performance review process, in which case a good response is:
“Before we go into the fine detail, let’s finish the overall impression and discussion about your performance. We can come back to specifics later.”
If the employee refuses to let it go, saying that this should be a two-way process, then a response can be:
“Yes it is a two-way process, and I am in the midst of my part of that so I’d appreciate you respecting me by allowing me to finish what I am saying and then you can say your piece.”
Always stay calm in these situations. This is easier said than done, however, if you get emotionally rattled then the integrity and effectiveness of the review process are compromised.
Conversation Six: the Wailing Weeper
Almost every manager has a story about an employee who would burst into tears before the beginning of any conversation, even one of positive feedback. So what do you do? Realistically, if your employee is so distressed at talking about their performance then you need to have some tissues handy and give them a moment to regain their composure and then complete the conversation. That way they will gain some experience of a conversation that was not as bad as they thought, and will also leave your office or the meeting room in a composed state. Do not end the meeting and send the employee away in a distressed state otherwise other staff will wonder what sort of tyrant you are. Gently persisting with the meeting and allowing the employee to regain their composure will also thwart that small number of people who use tears as a tactic to avoid the inevitable performance conversation. Be compassionate, not a pushover. Stay tuned for part three to understand the final three types of tough conversations.