16 Feb

We need to talk…

Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most

Not that long ago, I was having a conversation with some of my colleagues, and we were sharing our excitement about the talent and skills of new team members—a lot of “sharp cookies” with amazing potential pretty much summarized our feelings!

Now, several people had noticed something about one of our sharp cookies. Let’s call him John. John was probably unaware of a gap in his supervisory skills that stood out for all of us. There was consensus that this gap could hinder his performance. This is when I asked, “Who shared this feedback with John?” And then the room went silent. Hmmm…

You see, there is nothing wrong with objectively assessing an individual’s performance (yes, I did underline “objectively”). But—brace for impact as I’m going to be blunt here—noticing an opportunity for improvement and choosing not to inform the person promptly is failing to assume our leadership responsibilities. There, I said it; we fail as a leader if we do that. It is indeed our responsibility to engage in an open conversation when we notice a shortfall and help the individual gain awareness.

By the way, collecting these observations and sharing them as a laundry list during the annual review is truly missing the proverbial boat. Here’s a secret about annual reviews, but don’t tell anyone I told you: the reason we need to have a formalized performance review process is because too many leaders fail to act on their responsibility to provide ongoing feedback right when something happens, in a caring and constructive manner. It is a core leadership responsibility and accountability to play an active role in the development of the individuals we have the privilege to lead. And, if we do our job well throughout the year, the performance review conversation is an enjoyable opportunity to recap discussions that took place over the course of the year and to celebrate progress and successes.

Now, I get that some feedback conversations may get difficult. I tell you what: because this is such an important topic, I’m planning subsequent posts about this. Sound good?

But in the meantime, let me take a wild guess and assume that as you read this post you are only thinking about providing negative feedback and opportunities for improvement. Here’s an idea for you to consider: what if you committed to providing positive feedback as often as you share opportunities for growth? I promise you that if you rise to the challenge, saying “we need to talk” will no longer instill fear in the person at the receiving end of your statement.

And, if you think this only applies at work, think again.

Yours in coaching,

P.S. Here is a great read about difficult conversations, if you are interested and taking ownership of your own learning right away. The book is a bit of a classic and is readily available. Click on the image to read a synopsis.
Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most

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