Courageous Conversations

It’s time for that Performance Appraisal conversation.  This can be a tough time, for not only the Team Member being appraised (as they become vulnerable to others’ perceptions of them) but also for the Lead who has to have this conversation.  What a weight of responsibility! Especially when there is developmental feedback to give.  How do you make it effective?  What can you do to make sure that this conversation glides easier through the vulnerable moments should they surface? 

Here are a few tips to help guide you on the road; 

  1. Start with the end in Mind 

When you walk out of the conversation, what do you want to happen as a result of the conversation?  Is there an action that needs to be taken, or a behaviour that needs a shift?  If you are very clear about the end point, this will help keep you on track as you navigate through the sometimes-murky-waters of the emotional response that may happen.  It’s worth also being clear on what you want the relationship to look like after the conversation – it’s not only about the current action, but there is also a future to consider as you build a relationship which empowers your Team Member.  The clearer you are about the end, the better you stay on track as the conversation goes, and the clearer you will be able to articulate your expectations right up front of what you want out of the conversation. 

2. Pay attention to the context. 

If you want someone to change, make sure they feel safe first. Safety is about how we feel about a particular place, a particular person and even a particular time.  Is the office a good place for your conversation?  Perhaps doing a feedback conversation off site (even going for a walk) will create a better feeling of safety and eye-level.  Timing is equally important, give enough time for the conversation and make sure it is not just before that big presentation which is already making them anxious. 

3. Understand the obstacles. 

We all have triggers that trip us up. Ask yourself what yours might be; and then plan what you might do if they do pop up.  Then put yourself in their shoes, what do you think they might be triggered by?  How will you see this happening and what could you do about it.  A very useful tool to use is the contrasting statement, “what I don’t want to happen in our conversation is that…what I would like is for us to…” 

4. What words will you use? 

Up to this point you have done a lot of thinking and planning.  Making sure you have a Roadmap that keeps you on your intended course.  Now write out the words that you will say.  At the very least a bullet point list of your path. Be assertive AND humble. Be frank AND respectful. Be curious AND give your authentic opinion. Make sure you are clear this is your perspective…speak from the “I”, “I believe, I think”.  Now you have it down in black and white…go find your conversation partner.   

4. It’s just your perspective. 

While a performance conversation is about supporting the Team Member to grow, and giving feedback towards this end, it is important to bear in mind that there are two sides to how we see the same landscape.  Be aware that this is your story! You need to give time to listen and be prepared to adjust your perspective.  This might require you to pay attention to what is being said ‘below the water’ – what is there, but not being said.  

5. Create commitments. 

Any conversation without action has no impact.  Make sure you agree on a course of action and how you are going to check in on these.  Document it. Send it. Follow up.  If the follow up is missed, a year later you will start the same conversation again.  Make sure this is not only about actions towards getting the job done, but also actions on how to be together in the future.  What do you want the relationship to look like, what went well in the conversation, what could we improve? 

If we step back and look at the Performance Appraisal, what we will see is that by planning it carefully up front it often goes a lot easier than expected.  However, there is another factor to bear in mind.  If the moment of engaging with your team member comes once a year, it will always seem like a mountain.  Empowering your Team Member is an ongoing journey.  Make sure you check in regularly so that the Performance Appraisal doesn’t stand out as a cliff face in front of you, but is just a natural part of an ongoing development journey to both care and dare your Team Member to greater heights.


Brian Heydenrych

Senior Facilitator & Coach