As managers and leaders at some point we are all going to have to deal with performance appraisals and while these should deliver no surprises to the employee, it is at these times that it helps to have additional expertise and insights when it comes to managing difficult conversations. To get some insights into appraisals and some challenging areas, which as managers we might face, we looked at some advice from Jay Rhoderick one of our trainers who is a communications coach who has honed interpersonal and messaging skills with managers and executives at all levels in the financial, tech, branding, media and health sectors.
Having difficult conversations is a part of the workplace and there can be a real challenges to manage those performance and conduct issues. Get it wrong and the employees have increased absenteeism, may work less effectively or worse. Get it right and you can improve attendance, engagement and performance.
What skills do I need to handle managing difficult conversations?
Many of the skills needed to handle difficult conversations and behaviour are often referred to as “soft skills” but we believe that these are core leadership skills and have devoted hours of research and study to creating courses that deal with managing difficult conversations. It helps at times like performance appraisal by thinking about:
- The way you communicate
- Your self awareness of how you communicate
- Your ability to control the performance appraisal
- Having an end goal in mind
Managing difficult conversations training can help to give you the confidence you need.
How Do I Prepare For Performance Appraisals?
As a manager you need to make sure to enter the conversation having done your homework on you as the manager, on the employee, and on the recent narrative of that employee’s work highs and lows, especially within the context of the firm’s work as a whole.
Now is a good time to sit and think about what sort of leader you are, how you like to manage, your vision, and to do an honest personal inventory on your own personality, thinking and communication process. Then you have to consider all these things for your reviewee, particularly understanding how he or she communicates and if there are any unique or challenging ways they express themselves.
Particularly, you should consider how tone, point-of-view and placement inform what they need to hear, and how the information is received.
- Tone: how do they like to receive feedback?
- Point-of-view: how do I think they will see it impacting their business outlook at the firm?
- Placement: how does his or her rank, seniority, background, strategic placement, etc. within the company suggest how personally he or she takes feedback or how seriously they receive it so as to usefully apply it?
Finally, as a manager you need to provide yourself with carefully chosen, specific stories of when the employee has (or has not) embodied whatever skills or behaviours you are focusing on in the review. It must be practical, and you should aim to leave any ego at the door, so as to come across as collaboratively as possible.
Managing Difficult Conversations And Handling Responses
Encourage your employee to give full answers and try to validate their concerns and possible complaints as worthy of being heard. But keep clear boundaries that this is a professional and not personal conversation.
Set clear ground rules beforehand on the format of the discussion, remain open to questions, ask lots of open questions, show respect, maintain confidentiality and trust, and look for moments to coach, in addition to appraising.
What’s not super-helpful is pretending that there are no emotions involved. If the employee is upset or excited, whether they show it fully or not, it’s important to remember these emotions are there and to respect them.
Crucially, having structure helps to de-personalise things to some extent and, by generating a solid plan for future actions and further development, you will anchor the conversation in what is useful and practical.
Resisting the urge to tell and teach, and embracing instead the philosophy of “ask and coach” also helps ground responses in the realm of accountability.
Click here to read more about our Having Difficult Conversations course. If you are interested in organising a course or having some 1:1 coaching on this subject please contact us and one of the expert team will be happy to help. Contact details for our various global offices are in the footer below.