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If there is one thing that both new and experienced managers or leaders worry about - it's having a performance conversation.

No manager wants to find themselves having uncomfortable conversations with their team members. Talking about underperformance or toxic behaviours are topics that most managers would prefer to avoid.
Many leaders worry about the potential for conflict, the conversation not changing anything or being seen as a villain. Leaders who pride themselves on their warmth fear people will feel like they have been attacked (and not like them so much).
The result is a whole lot of doomsday scenarios. Think mutiny or having a voodoo doll made in your likeness that is repeatedly tortured.
But like most fears - they are mostly in our head (and hopefully not as weird as the afore-mentioned), But what we don't realise is that they can stop us from having the impact we wish to have as a leader.
In my coaching practice and leadership programs, these are the typical thinking traps that leaders need to work on that stop them from delivering successful feedback.

1. Believing that the Performance Conversation is Criticising people

What often trips leaders up is that they get all caught up around "having to pull people up" or "tell them they're doing things wrongly." We approach a performance conversation as a way of reprimanding people and criticising their performance. We tell people what they are doing wrong and how they can improve.
But people don't change when they feel criticised.
A better way is to approach them as an ally. Someone who brings out the best in people. Focus on improving the capabilities of your direct report. It's not so much about improving performance, it's about coaching them to grow their capabilities and skills. You are there to support them to learn and grow. You approach them with feedback as an ally, not a critic.
Not only does it benefit them, but you as well. Studies have revealed that not only does coaching others enhance our own learning experiences, but it also accelerates and enhances our learning process.
It's time to reframe personal conversations as learning or growth opportunities.
For example, for more problematic behaviours, it's best to flag the need for a conversation and give your report time to prepare. Send an email saying, "Let's set aside some time to discuss today's meeting. I've observed a few behaviours that could be getting in the way of your effectiveness. I would like to offer some guidance and engage in a conversation about how we can enhance our future efforts."

2. Being worried about hurting the other person's feelings

A common fear for leaders is that their feedback will hurt people, so they talk around the issue and apologise a lot. While their intention might be to avoid people feeling hurt, it can often backfire. Feedback that is delivered in a nervous and clumsy manner is seldom beneficial to anyone.
The reality is that there is always the potential that your direct reports will be upset. Part of being a leader is accepting that you can't please everyone all of the time and that holding everyone to high standards is for the betterment of your team. After all, people will respect you more if your attention is focused on high quality work, rather than winning people's approval.
In addition, providing your report with timely, well-organised feedback that highlights areas for improvement and offers clear steps for moving forward is highly beneficial. Otherwise, they will continue to do the wrong thing and then exclaim "Why didn't someone tell me sooner!"
A Zenger Folkman global study found that of people who’d received negative or redirecting feedback, 74% indicated that they were not surprised and had already known about the problem that was raised. 
Most of the time, struggling employees know they can improve, but aren't sure by how much or how. And that's where leaders come in and guide.
If you approach the difficult conversation with the goal to help people learn and improve, they will feel that. Growing is often uncomfortable and painful. If they decide, to be hurt and ruminate about the feedback, and blame you, that is their issue to work on. You are not responsible for how people take on feedback and react to it. All you can do is provide actionable feedback that is said with kindness and clarity.  
After all, as Brene Brown says, "Clear is kind."

3. WorrY about the OUTCOME OF THE conversation 

A positive mindset is critical before delivering a growth conversation. Expecting it to go badly is almost like pre-paving that result.

A lot of leaders worry so much about the conversation that they deliver it in a poor fashion. Little things like body language and tone matter. So if you are expecting the worst it often means you avoid eye contact, laugh nervously during the session and don't listen properly, so that you make assumptions about what your direct report is saying. The result is that they feel uncomfortable and misunderstood.

It's really important to work on your mindset before a challenging conversation. This entails anticipating the best possible outcome and maintaining a focus on mutual growth and positive results. By doing so, your direct report will develop a deeper trust in your leadership, paving the way for both of you to flourish from the discussion.

4. Call the conversation a scary name 

We often label performance conversations with a scary name. Yet, the words we use can often make us feel good or bad.

According to a study conducted by Harvard, the choice of words used during a feedback conversation can greatly impact how it is received. The term "feedback" is often associated with evaluation and looking back, while "advice" is seen as forward-looking and focused on development.

You can help both yourself and your report by renaming the conversation a term that is more beneficial to both of you.  Rather than label the conversation as a performance conversation or feedback, label it "a debrief", "advice" or the term I like to use is a "growth conversation."

Changing the language like this will put both you and your direct report at ease.

5. Getting it over and done with quickly

A lot of managers feel so nervous about giving feedback that they do it in a rushed manner, so they get it over and done with as fast as possible.

This often means that don't plan as thoroughly as they should and they aren't really present to the conversation. Process focused leaders can often be so diligent in following a process that they aren't really listening. Nor are they particularly calm, which can make their report even more nervous, and the conversation even more awkward.

Moreover, their direct report is left with a sense of being unheard and unseen, unable to fully express their true selves.

In the previously mentioned Zenger and Folkman study, the less people felt their managers listened to them, the more likely they were to believe that their managers were not being honest and straightforward.  

Give people time to express their viewpoint. Take time to pause and really listen, so that you can also answer their questions and give them the clear action steps they need to improve. Make sure you schedule ample time to have the conversation depth that is needed, rather than what makes you feel comfortable.

How to Improve A Performance Discussion

These five common thinking traps around performance conversations can have a disastrous impact on our ability to give helpful feedback.

It's important to reframe how you think about delivering a performance conversation. You are there to bring the best out of your people and help them to learn and grow. This means changing your mindset and using more positive language around the topic.

Remember, it's not about reprimanding people or hurting people's feelings, it's about focusing on improving your direct reports' capabilities and supporting their growth.

By focusing on these strategies, you can overcome thinking traps that hinder the development of a trusted work relationship with your direct report. This will allow you to create an environment that fosters growth and collaboration, ensuring both you and your team member can thrive.

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