Tips for Handling Difficult Performance Conversations

Don’t delay the conversation.  While many people are uncomfortable with confrontation it is necessary.  While the manager delays the conversation the employee may be very aware that a performance discussion is coming and use that to his/her advantage.  The employee may consult with an attorney, allege a legal wrong, engage in a protected activity or take protected leave (e.g. FML).

Avoid chitchat, as people often try to break the ice with casual chatter.  In some cases a well-intentioned question may result in a discrimination claim.

Document the conversation in writing.  Prepare for the conversation, list talking points for yourself.  Have a document for the employee, consider giving the employee the coaching memo at the beginning of the meeting and allowing him/her to read/review it.

Provide specific examples to the employee of the problem behavior.

Avoid focusing on intent as it is largely irrelevant.  Don’t focus on “you don’t care” or “you’re not trying”.  Focus on the negative affect on the department and the results.

Stay away from “why?”  Do not inquire or speculate as to whether a condition the employee has or work/life management challenge is part of the performance deficiency.  If the employee is asked if he/she is depressed, the employee may have a perceived disability claim under ADA.

Make no excuses, if the employee’s failings are due to the organization, the employee should not be held accountable.

Watch for code words, such as the organization won’t allow….  Be sure there is no bias.

Avoid absolutes.

Listen; give the employee an opportunity to talk.

Clarify expectations, clarify the problems and articulate what expectations are moving forward.

HR Magazine April 2016, “That Difficulty Conversation”, by Jonathan Segal

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