For years I asked participants in my new supervisor
programs what part of the job they dreaded most. The answer was always “talking
to team members about performance.” In my experienced supervisor programs I
asked what parts of their job the participants hated most. “Dealing with my
boss” always ran neck-and-neck with “talking to team members about performance.”
I titled the first version of the book that now anchors my Working Supervisor’s Support Kit, How to Talk to People
Who Work for You about Performance because it is such an important part of the
job. Here are some guidelines to help you do better at this sensitive and vital
Here’s the challenge in a nutshell. You want your team member to
leave the conversation thinking about how they will do things differently in the
future and not about how you treated them. Here are things
you can do to increase the odds.
Don’t put it off. Behavior and performance problems rarely
get better with age.
Decide what you will talk about. It should be important and
it should be either behavior or performance.
Decide how you will describe the subject. Leave the
adjectives home. Use simple language to describe the facts.
Decide how you will describe the result of their performance or
behavior. You can describe logical outcomes or emotional outcomes.
You’ll do better if you can describe both.
Minimize distractions. Have the conversation where you won’t
be interrupted by people or technology. Turn off or silence gear that can buzz,
beep, or clang.
Tailor your opening to the person you’re talking to. Some
people are most comfortable if you open with a little polite conversation.
Others want you to get right to the matter at hand. If you know your people,
you’ll know which to pick.
Say your piece, then shut up. Wait for your team member to
talk. Wait as long as it takes.
When your team member speaks, you will have the basis for a conversation
about how things will be different.
Boss’s Bottom Line
Great bosses talk to their people about performance and behavior when it’s
necessary, even if it’s uncomfortable, but they strive to make the experience
both effective and as comfortable as possible.