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How to Have a Difficult Performance Discussion

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How to Have a Difficult Performance Discussion


3 Keys to Making Difficult Discussions Easier

It is clear that the key reason people avoid giving feedback is not because they don't understand the problem but rather because they don't know how to craft a message that is sayable and hearable.

Put the focus on the positive, desired performance rather than highlighting the current negative performance. The result is a message that you can deliver without having a bottle of Alka-Seltzer at your side and your staff can hear without going off the rails. 

Key #1: Identify the Performance Issue

Identify the negative behavior that is holding the individual back not a problem for most people. Then describe it in the opposite, positive terms.

For example, if the employee lacks finesse when dealing with clients and behaves like a bull in a china shop the manager would ask for the employee to develop a more polished and professional style.

When an employee makes frequent mistakes the manager would talk in terms of developing more accuracy.

For the employee who chronically complains that everything is a problem, but never offers any solutions, the manager might ask the employee to develop a problem solving approach.

Key #2: Be Specific about the Desired Change

It is important to get specific about what you mean by a more polished and professional approach, more accuracy or a problem solving approach. For example, What I mean by develop a problem solving approach is that when you first notice a problem that is preventing you from getting your job done to first think through a solution and then approach me if it's something you need my help with.

Key #3: Detail the Benefits of Making the Change

Lastly, it is useful to explain to the employee the benefit of developing the performance area. Ask yourself Why do I want the employee to make this change?

In the case of the chronic complainer who never offers solutions their behavior most likely creates negativity, wastes time and garners complaints from co-workers who are sick and tired of listening to this person drone on about what's wrong.

So, the here's why I'm asking you to focus on this part of the message would sound something like this, The reason I want you to focus on solving problems is that people will notice and appreciate a how do I make things better around here approach, it will make more constructive use of the time we have and it will bring more positive energy into the team.

Notice how the message is still honest yet it talks in terms of what WILL happen when the employee develops a problem solving approach.

These keys are the core of the Performance Continuum Feedback Method, a step-by-step methodology designed to make anyone comfortable delivering even the most difficult feedback.


Talking in terms of the desired performance versus the current undesired performance serves two purposes:

  1. We are more likely to initiate the discussion because the wording makes it more comfortable to deliver the feedback.
  2. The employee learns what is expected (as opposed to focusing on what's wrong) with their dignity intact

Bypassing negative performance descriptions and the resulting negative employee reaction allows the employee to respond more positively; ultimately facilitating the move towards the solution phase of the discussion the ultimate goal of feedback.

A simple rule of thumb is to provide the employee with the opportunity to receive the feedback and make progress on the issue. Only when it is clear that the employee is unwilling or unable to make progress should more extreme measures be used -- such as disciplinary action or documented performance plans.

Read the blog article on how to translate behavior based issues into SMART goals


Great information! Let's hope it works....
Posted @ Tuesday, September 06, 2011 9:21 AM by Kerry Walker
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