As a manager, it’s never easy to tell someone they need to improve their performance. No one likes being criticised. This can be one of the hardest challenges you’ll face as an appraiser during your performance appraisal process. Simply starting the difficult conversation can be hard enough; handling the conversation to ensure it becomes a positive discussion can be even harder. It is possible though!
Ideally, when the performance appraisal meeting takes place, any issues that could lead difficult conversations should have already been addressed. There shouldn’t be any surprises coming up in the conversation at the performance appraisal meeting.
Regular, open communication during the year between appraiser and employee is essential. Difficult conversations often start because a staff member wasn’t expecting to hear an appraiser’s feedback and didn’t have a chance to prepare properly for it.
Here are some simple tips that make handling difficult conversations during appraisal meetings a whole lot easier.
- Always begin the appraisal meeting positively by explaining what the employee has done well in terms of performance.
- When you introduce the issue that could lead to a difficult conversation, invite the employee to talk about the situation themselves. Don’t launch in straightaway with your point of view, even though you may be correct.
- Be super-aware of how you are coming across to the employee. Sometimes a difficult conversation starts with a disagreement over an issue and then spirals out of control as a result of your communication styles clashing. Knowing your instinctive style, particularly when you're under pressure, can really help.
- As the conversation develops (it shouldn’t be a difficult conversation at this stage!), be sure to have facts and evidence available to back up your point. Never base your argument on judgement alone. The employee is much more likely to understand your point of view if you relate to actual events that have happened and the effect they have had.
- Show empathy when necessary and balance an assertive approach with a supportive style. Handling difficult conversations becomes a lot easier if the person sees that you’re prepared to listen. Be conscious to give verbal and non-verbal cues to show this (nodding etc).
- Encourage the employee to reflect on the detail of specific incidents. Don’t make the assumption the person understands the problem; it may be blindly obvious to you, but not necessarily to them.
- Have a plan of action prepared in your mind before the performance appraisal but challenge yourself to tease this plan out of the employee without dictating it to them. In other words, get them to feel that they came up with it! They’re much more likely to follow the plan through this way.
- Asking open questions should really help the person to share their thoughts and explore the opportunities for improving their performance. Closed questions tend to lead to yes or no answers.
- Don’t rush the appraisal meeting. It takes time for people to come to terms with the fact they’ve fallen below the bar. This is a key tip to for dealing with difficult conversations. Be patient!
This simple mnemonic should help to stop difficult conversations coming up during the appraisal meeting. Prepare thoroughly before the appraisal to ensure you cover each step –
B Behaviour – Establish what the person is doing or not doing that is unacceptable. Ideally, you get the employee to explain this to you rather you dictating the problem to them.
E Effect – Discuss why the behaviour is unacceptable and how it affects productivity or bothers others. Use real events and back your pints up with facts.
E Expectation – Explain what you expect the person to do to change for the better. Get them to buy into this by inviting them to contribute their own expectations too.
R Result – Be clear about what will happen if the person changes or the consequences if the poor behaviour or performance continues.
Always end the appraisal meeting on a high point. Everyone has done something well!