Michele Goedde Coaching

3 step approach for making a difficult conversation easier

Let’s face it. My guess is that the least favorite part of your role as a manager is when you have to deliver a tough message. Whether you must tell someone they will not get what they want, you realize a direct is not performing as well as you thought (new information is tricky business) or something has changed with a previous strong performer. No matter what the situation, you find that you face a difficult conversation. It happens. Even for the most experienced managers, it is rare for it to feel natural or that you do it often enough to get good at it. I bring you good news today: a 3-step technique that will make it easier.

This technique is based on my overall approach to managing – that this is a relationship, a shared responsibility between both involved parties. Try this out and let me know what you think.

Step 1 – employee pre-work: self-assessment:
At your next 1-on-1 or at a regular check in, tell your employee you are going to have a conversation about whatever the topic is at hand – how things are going, progress against goals, progress towards a promotion, etc. Ask them to come prepared to discuss:

  1. Their self-assessment – how do they believe they are performing, progressing against goals, citing specific examples.
  2. In what areas do they believe they have room to grow or are not performing, progressing as they would like with examples. Rather than why, (does it matter?) ask what would they would do differently if they could do it again? This gives insight in to problem solving capability and engagement.
  3. Have them describe what is next, what they want and what do they need from you to be successful.

Tell them you will be preparing the same.

Step 2 – manager pre-work: employee assessment:
You probably already guessed, as you are calling the meeting, prepare your assessment on the same topics:

  1. What is going well, where is the employee progressing from your perspective and what your observations are based on.
  2. What is not going as well as it should, why the employee is not meeting expectations, not going to receive what they want, etc. It is essential to provide behaviorally specific examples and outcomes that include what was expected, what was delivered and what was missing/not meeting expectations.
  3. What is needed going forward to turn things around, reach their goals, etc. This will be fluid depending on what happens when you meet.

Step 3 the conversation:

  1. Have your employee start – this gives you a sense of whether you are in synch or whether you are not giving you time to adjust your conversation before you even begin.
  2. If you find you are in agreement you can move to discussing next steps to get things back on track. Let your employee do the talking. What do they think they need, what does success look like how do they plan to get there?
  3. If you find your assessment varies with theirs, you can ask “why do you think we have such different perspectives?” It does not change your assessment but you can be prepared to accept some of the responsibility for the disconnect but not the performance.

Ideally you get quickly to the place where you are in agreement about what needs to change to achieve the desired results going forward. An employee may not like the outcome of the discussion or where things stand but at the very least they know the information so they are empowered to do something about it and see you as a resource for making the changes.

Why it works:
Allowing an employee to self-assess gives you a chance to see where they see themselves, how bought in they are and what you are facing. Are they engaged? Motivated? Are their expectations realistic? Do they have a healthy sense of their own performance? Essentially you know what you are up against before you say a word giving you time to adjust your approach. More often than not, you avoid hammering someone over the head needlessly causing them to shut down with feedback they kind of already knew. Plus, I found as a manager that employees were almost always smarter, more self-aware, self-critical and took more personal responsibility when I structured the conversation to allow it.
This approach can work for any conversation you have with an employee. Transitioning a new employee to you, a new hire, high performer and managing a struggling performer. It can become your framework for all of your check in and performance based conversations.

Try it!

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