The Toughest Workplace Conversations

The Toughest Workplace Conversations

Managing under performance has got to be one of the toughest parts of being a leader and quite often triggers the ‘fight or flight’ mechanism in both the Leader and the team member.

It can involve challenging and confronting conversations that people, in general, would prefer to avoid. Too often these conversations and approaches become highly scripted, and process driven to protect the people and organisations involved. This, in turn, decreases the humility and creates a defensive response. Too often it becomes a time consuming, stressful process and an unfavourable outcome for the employee, the leader, and the organisation.

The actual situation is what has led to the need to address the underperformance. The way in which we communicate and approach the process is what directly exasperates or resolves the situation.

It is well known that as humans, we don’t often like being told what to do, being told that we are wrong or that what we are doing is not good enough. Anyone put into that type of situation will likely have a triggered emotional response and it’s no wonder that for many it becomes ‘fight’ and defend. We quickly lose sight of what we want the outcome to be and get caught up in our own head and the natural sense of self protection.

While we know that there is a substantial financial impact to the workplace due to lack of performance, the time impact and the cultural impact is equally of concern. Tolerating or ignoring under performance causes extreme frustration in peers and will have their subconscious mind questioning their values, beliefs and priorities. In addition, the level of respect towards the leader will be in question.

The key to addressing any type of underperformance comes solely down to communication. It is the way we deliver the communication that will determine the outcome and the effectiveness of the process.

Here are my 5 tips to addressing under performance:

I can not stress enough that it should never be ignored and never left to drag on. Ignoring it causes a pressure cooker situation not only for the under performer and leader but it is also contagious to everyone around them. Open up the conversation as soon as you are aware of it..

Our Emotional Profile is just as important as our Technical Profile. When a new employee joins the team, understanding what they know and what they can do is a given. The key is to understand how and why they do things. Emotional Profiles develop an understanding of the best way to motivate, provide feedback, praise, communicate and deliver change for each person. When we understand what makes people tick, we can achieve amazing things in short periods of time. As Leaders, the key way to lead your team is understanding their drivers. Spend the time to understand the Emotional Profiles of those around you as well as sharing your own.

The response that we really want is for them to own it. Most people are well aware when they are underperforming. Instead of listing and pointing out the obvious, ask questions to prompt them to tell you how they are performing. Pause after your questions and ask the same question several times if needed. The pause and the same questions will help them to speak from their subconscious mind. If we can get them to own it upfront, the whole process becomes a lot easier.

What do you want the outcome to be? Is this person right for the job? Do you want them to turn things around and be performing again? Are they in the wrong job? Are they ready for a new challenge? Know the desired outcome but don’t push your agenda, ask them their desired outcome, getting them to own it. How do they want this to end? How do WE achieve this? Working with them to get the best outcome for everyone with honesty rather than fighting each other. Surely no one loves getting up in the morning and going to a job where they are underperforming or have a team member underperforming? Both parties are looking for an outcome.

Everyone involved is accountable for the role they play in the situation. The leader must be accountable for following the process through to the end and doing it in an emotionally intelligent way. The under performer must be accountable for their actions, commitment, and progress. They both must be accountable for the consequences of their actions or lack of actions. If the under performer is lacking in ownership and/or accountability, the leader should move from ‘ask’ to ‘tell’ removing all emotion and clearly stating expectations along with a detailed timeframe and consequences.

Everything about this process requires honesty, trust and transparency. These three fundamental attributes are achieved through communicating with emotional intelligence. Don’t get caught up in solely following procedures and ticking boxes that we lose basic humility along the way.

Most challenging or awkward conversations are overanalysed in our subconscious mind before they are even had, and anyone that is in an emotional hijack, cannot hear anything that anyone else is saying other than ‘Fight or Flight’. Disrupt the emotional hijack and over analysis and have an emotionally intelligent conversation.



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