On Difficult Conversations


One of the top reasons for for disatisfaction in the ranks of an organization, no matter the size or stage, is the tendency for management to avoid conflict and not to confront performance issues with  individual staff.  That dissatisfaction can metastasize into lowered performance for the entire organization, resignations and a ruptured culture. 

Why?  There are several reasons.  One key reason is that your strongest performers see that there are no consequences for those who are not meeting expectations.  Why bother doing their best in that case?  They see this as a form of unwarranted favouritism.  The result is frustration with management for not doing their job.  There is anxiety for high performers that their own performance will be compromised  if they work in teams with those who are not contributing adequately.

My experience as a manager for over 30 years has demonstrated time and again that avoiding facing performance issues hurts the organization and my own reputation.  I have definitely been guilty of avoiding conflict.  I have felt such great anxiety about facing an individual across a table to take them to task.  In the end, I learned to do better through hard experience but was never very good at what is a critical part of a leader’s job.

By the way, I don’t believe in annual reviews, I believe in constant feedback, which allows me to give good and bad feedback in a timely fashion and to monitor a situation.  It also insures that problems don’t get out of hand.

I found a useful posting from Contracting Business that summarizes the 11 most common mistakes in regards to managing performance problems and what to do about it.  I like the way the author has simplified what can be an overwhelming issue, especially for inexperienced  managers.

A great book on preparing for any type of difficult conversation is entitled, Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most, by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, Sheila Heen and Roger Fisher.  It is a New York Times business best seller.  “From the Harvard Negotiation Project, the organization that brought you Getting to Yes, Difficult Conversations provides a step-by-step approach to having those tough conversations with less stress and more success.”

Books that focus on how I can manage myself in difficult situations are the most helpful. They get me to prepare in advance, to understand my own triggers and to listen to the other person.  And they provide useful tools that I can apply.  That being said, I still avoid confrontations!





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