Leadership: Make Those Tough Conversations Easier

  |   Performance Management Print Friendly and PDF

If you’ve been a boss for more than a couple of days, you’ve had at least one tough conversation. You know the ones I mean. They’re the conversations about performance and behavior. Most bosses dread them.

Conversations about performance and behavior are at the core of your work as a leader.  If leadership is your job, you can’t walk away from tough conversations.

You can’t make those conversations go away. They’re part of your job. So, you need to learn to do them as well as you can. Here are some things that will make those tough conversations easier.

Touch Base A Lot

When you touch base a lot, it’s not an event when you show up. People don’t read anything special into it. Touching base a lot makes you a regular part of everyday work life, and helps you catch problems when they’re small.

Have Conversations that Build Relationships

When you touch base a lot, you have opportunities for conversations. Some will be conversations about work. Most will not. Those conversations build relationships with people. They’re how team members learn about you and whether they can trust you. It’s where you learn about them. When you do that, you can be more effective at helping them succeed.

Regular One-On-Ones Handle Routine Things

You should have regular one-on-ones with your team members. For most teams, I suggest a regular scheduled one-on-one every week. Regular one-on-ones are where you listen to your team member. Regular one-on-ones help you make small adjustments so that issues don’t become problems. They prevent surprises.

Solve Problems Promptly

Problems are like dinosaurs. When they’re small, they’re easy to handle. But if you let them grow big, they can eat you. Don’t wait to handle a problem. Most behavior and performance problems are not self-healing.  They will only get worse.

Tough Conversations Should Be Private

Have tough conversations in private. Eliminate distractions. Turn off your computer. Shut down your phone. The only things to pay attention to are your message and the other person. They should leave the conversation concentrating on what will change.

Tailor Your Conversation to The Person

There is no one-size-fits-all in leadership. Tailor what you say and do to the person you’re meeting with. Some people like a little small talk at the beginning of a tough conversation to ease into it. Others want you to skip the small-talk and get right to the subject. People have different paces and different communication preferences. Learn about them in the regular conversations in the regular flow of the workday. Adjust your behavior to the team member’s preferences.

You Won’t Win Them All

We don’t like to be criticized or told we need to change. That’s not easy for anyone. Treat people with dignity. Make sure they leave concentrating on what needs to change, but don’t expect them to be happy about it. Do not expect balloons, birthday cake, and big smiles.

Bottom Line

Conversations about behavior and performance are a core part of your leadership work. You can’t eliminate them, but you can make them easier. Touch base a lot. Have conversations that build relationships. Use regular one-on-ones to handle routine things and prevent surprises. Solve problems promptly. Make conversations about behavior and performance private. Tailor your conversation to the other person. Remember, you can’t win them all.

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