Skip to main content

This week, I spent 2 days delivering two 90 minute global webinars on having better Performance Conversations.   To me, this is one of the hardest and most important parts of the job for a leader and manager.

We had a great discussion.  People reflected on the best piece of feedback we received and why it was so good.  For most, it was constructive feedback–and it had stuck with them for years, even decades.  As leaders, knowing that you can have that kind of impact on someone else is powerful, and even a little scary.  You don’t want to mess it up.

When I think about the best kinds of conversations, they’re not the once-a-year type.  Many companies are ditching the formal process to a more regular feedback loop.  I’m on board with that–and it also makes me wonder if it eases the pressure from managers to only have one or two shots to have a meaningful development conversation.  It makes it part of the regular discussion with team members.

Three things that can help you have better, more brain-friendly performance conversations:

1. Think About Your Mindset

Get yourself in the right mindset.  Remember, this is a conversation.  A two-way street.  Often when we think about performance, our natural tendency to rely on the negative comes to the surface.  We have more negative networks in our brains and are usually looking for the worst case scenario.  People feel naturally threatened by the process, so find a place to have the conversation that feels safe and neutral.  Don’t do the “come into my office, I have some feedback for you,” if you actually want people to have a good conversation with you about their performance.

Thinking positively about the opportunity you have to connect with a colleague and align is a great start.  Resist the urge to think about all the things that went wrong.  How did that person take risks?  How can you recognize the courage to learn something new–and in the process, fail?    Talking about what you like, and then what you would like more of from that person is a great way to keep the mindset positive.  Focus on strengths and how those can be better utilized.

2. Regulate Your Emotions

If you’re anxious or frustrated or angry, that’s going to come across in your body language, the words you choose, and the pace and tone you deliver your message.  You don’t want to come across as inauthentic, so regulating those powerful emotions can really help.  The secret is in labeling.  Acknowledging the emotions you’re having while you’re having them–whether it’s writing it down, saying it out loud, or taking a minute to have a deep breath or two turns back on the language portion of your brain and re-directs the energy and bloodflow from your emotional brain.

3. Use the “Tough | Love” process

Finally, a tactic I love from HBR, the Tough Love review.  Track a list of constructive feedback and highlights of each one of your employees in short phrases.  Yes, is a daunting task for those of you with big teams.  But being able to track, and then ask how the teammate is feeling on receiving feedback on a scale of 1-10, 1 being “not receptive”, and 10 being “ready to grow”, makes the conversation more self-directed for the receiver.  Asking “do you need more ‘tough’ or more ‘love’ feedback” can be a weekly activity for your 1:1’s, and it’s driven by the receiver on what they get.

Remembering that we all want feedback to grow is a good reminder for everyone in the conversation.