In almost every consulting project or leadership development program I have worked on, I see a common thread that contributes to time-wasting drama: The inability or unwillingness of the manager to have a difficult performance conversation. I’m not talking about the yearly performance evaluation, (which could be argued does more harm than good). I’m talking about the ongoing conversations that should be happening weekly to help the employee course-correct before a bigger problem emerges costing the company in turnover, lawsuits, or rework.
If we are honest, no matter what our role or title, we all avoid difficult conversations at work, and we justify the avoidance: We don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. We are afraid of their reaction. They are going through a divorce, or a health issue. We promise ourselves that once the crisis is over we will confront the elephant in the room.
These are the reasons we give for avoiding difficult conversations. The real reason we avoid these conversations is because we don’t want to feel the emotions associated with difficult conversations. In short, the root cause of avoidance is to avoid our own discomfort!
Initiating a difficult conversation makes you feel queasy, uptight, nervous or sad. That’s why you do everything to avoid them. Once you make peace with the fact that it is your own discomfort keeping you from a conversation, then you can learn the skills that make having the conversation a learning experience rather than something to avoid.
But first, you must tell yourself the truth and recognize the signs that you are avoiding difficult performance conversations:
10 signs you are avoiding difficult performance conversations
- A poor performer continues to collect a paycheck.
- You are filling in for them rather than training them on their weak areas.
- You have a “feeling” about something being off, but haven’t said so.
- You are sneaking around looking for evidence of their wrong doing.
- You walk on egg-shells to avoid upsetting them.
- You make excuses for their weaknesses.
- You waste time handling their complaints and problems.
- You shuffle the negative Nellie’s to someone else’s department or area.
- You agree with them or tell them what they want to hear to keep the peace.
- You avoid them in the hallway and use caller ID to avoid picking up.
When working with leaders, I teach a specific step-by-step process to initiate a difficult performance conversation that keeps the conversation positive, forward moving, and provides measures of accountability. The skill set gives leaders confidence, and makes this difficult but necessary task doable.
There are only two real barriers to initiating difficult conversations: The avoidance of discomfort, and the lack of skill. Once you get past those two barriers and learn the skills, you elevate your leadership and help your employees elevate their performance.
Marlene Chism is a consultant, international speaker and the author of “Stop Workplace Drama” (Wiley 2011) and “No-Drama Leadership” (Bibliomotion 2015). Visit her at MarleneChism.com and StopWorkplaceDrama.com, and connect via LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.
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