Why can’t these conversations be easier?

Imagine this if you can….

  • You deal with performance issues before they become personal.
  • You are able to come up with the ‘right words’.
  • You deal with challenging situations or people as they arise.
  • You say the ‘hard things’ and still maintain good working relationships.
Sounds great, huh?  Why are some work conversations  just harder than others?  And just to be a real pain, why are these conversations  so often the ones we really, REALLY need to have.  Why can’t these essential conversations all be easy?  These so-called ‘difficult conversations’ are the ones that are more emotionally-charged than others.  We need to let someone know that their performance is not quite up to scratch.  We need to let a fellow manager know that their staff are under-performing and getting in the way of our own staff doing their jobs well.  We need to tell our boss to stop micro-managing.  The list goes on.  

When there is a lot of emotion tied up with something we have to say, everything we may have learnt in the manual (or at the seminar) about how to have a ‘performance conversation’ goes out the window.  Our anxieties well up, we revert to type, our brains shut down and we end up fighting, fleeing or freezing.  Later when we’ve calmed down, the fight-flight-freeze hormones have left our bodies and our ‘thinking’ brain turns on again, we kick ourselves for messing it up.

So depending on who we are, we…
  • avoid these performance conversations, or put them off until we just can’t put them off any more 
  • focus so heavily on making sure we get the ‘message’ across, that we get ‘hard’ or ‘matter of fact’ and forget about the relationship we have with the other 
  • overcompensate for the relationship and beat about the bush, couching the message in such fuzzy terms we fail to actually say what we meant to
We know that we need to have the conversation because if left too long, work performance issues can become personal.  We know that if left too long or not done, the issues at hand can be exacerbated.  We know that if ignored, the issues can create additional problems in the wider organisation.  We know that if unaddressed, other people can become involved, whether they like it or not.  We also know that left unattended, such issues can generate a toxic work environment when other staff stop believing that poor performance gets dealt with.  So the case for having these conversations is there.  How do we do it?

Well, the truth is there is no step 1, step 2 fail-safe method to having these conversations; a relationship is a two–way thing and we can never reliably predict what another will say and do.   However there are some things that are useful to know and some capabilities that we can develop that will grow our ability to better achieve the outcomes we are looking for from our conversations.   

While it is certainly important to know some guidelines or tips for conducting a performance conversation, when the thing that inhibits us is ourselves and our emotional responses, what is needed is personal development.  This will increase our self-awareness and develop our capabilities to manage emotional responses and learn new ways of thriving when we are called upon to do something that challenges us.  Programmes such as the one my company offers, which create the opportunity for you to really learn about your inner workings and to get in control of your range of behavioural responses to challenging people and situations, are the ones more likely to create the changes you are looking for.  While programmes such as these are not typical and will stretch you beyond your comfort zone, the benefits of committing yourself to this kind of learning will enhance your work and life immeasurably.


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