How to Have Difficult Conversations

leadership Apr 18, 2022

One uncomfortable thing to do as a Leader is to have hard conversations about performance gaps with team members. Easy or challenging conversations are essential because they build trust, respect, connection, confidence, and loyalty with team members. Doing this shows that you value them for who they are and their contribution to the team and want to add value to their personal and professional growth.

It is frustrating when those that are your leaders avoid having open and honest conversations. I’ve watched dozens of leaders allow individual team members to perform subpar, putting a lot of stress on the others to carry the load. They did not prioritize time to coach the individual or did not want to confront the issue. This lack of leadership is one reason why teams do not work effectively. Have you worked with a leader that didn't help you learn and grow? When you asked for feedback, did you hear what you did right and no information on what you could do to improve further? Have you heard individuals tell you that they try to get feedback after interviews and hear that they did a good job, but they weren't the best candidate? I’m sure this is something all of us have experienced. 

Understanding how to have difficult conversations will increase your teams' effectiveness and improve your leadership skills. 

I recently read an article by Gallup stating that employees throughout the organization, both frontlines to white-collar professionals, perceptions that employers cared about their well-being have plummeted to 24% since the pandemic in 2020. From 2019 to 2020, the satisfaction rating increased by 49% because employers responded quickly with a plan, communication, and genuine concern for them, their work, and their lives. The survey shows communication is an essential ingredient to maintaining a high level of well-being. 

Following are tips on overcoming the fear of openly discussing performance deficiencies with team members, both remote workers and in the office. 

  • It starts with VALUE:  Spend time learning about what each person values in their personal and work life. Knowing what people value will assist you with understanding how to speak their language and better connect with them. Playing the values card game is a quick and fun way for everyone on the team to learn about each other’s values. Another great resource to assist with understanding team members is the Maxwell DISC Personality assessment.

  • Invest time LEARNING about their work routine: Take time to shadow your team members for half a day. Investing time in learning about your employee's work will assist you with seeing how they plan and organize the day, handle distractions, communicate with others, and connect with others. You will learn about their strengths and weaknesses. Above all, you will connect and establish credibility with them. 

  • Keep the relationship PROFESSIONAL: As a leader, it is essential to connect with team members and maintain boundaries by keeping the relationship professional. Becoming a team member's buddy will make it difficult for you to talk with them about areas of improvement and cause others to view this as favoritism.  

  • Establish CREDIBILITY: Consistently do what you say, Set realistic expectations, Serve versus taking, Communicate a clear mission and vision, Be knowledgeable of work routines, Mentoring, Coaching, and adequately train individuals. 

  • Ask POWERFUL QUESTIONS: Ask questions that inspire growth, Reflection, Contemplation, and Self-Discovery rather than telling.

  • LISTEN to understand the individual's perspective: Be fully present, Allow silence, Spotlight the team member, and Quiet your mind.

  • Do not make ASSUMPTIONS: Speak facts, Give real examples of what the individual is doing incorrectly, and avoid judging before discussing what you are observing. The sooner you have performance improvement discussions with staff members, the more relevant it will be for them. 

Having difficult conversations about performance gaps with employees is easier when you first invest time in building relationships and doing what is possible to make them successful.

Cheryl Riggen
Leadership Speaker, Mentor, and Coach