3 Myths To Consider When You Are Avoiding The Difficult Conversation

I think this is an experience that every leader should have early in their career.

We all know someone who doesn’t carry their weight. We complain about having to pick up the slack but wait for the manager to have a conversation with the person.

The question is: Why do leaders avoid having the performance management conversation?

Now, I’m not talking about those arrogant fools that like to insult and denigrate people whenever they aren’t doing something right. I’m talking about the common folk that want to be nice while at the same time hold people to a certain standard.

Here are a few phrases I have heard or used to avoid having the conversation:

  • She’s such a nice person…
  • I don’t want to hurt or offend them…
  • I don’t want to be mean.
  • They should know it! It’s common sense.
  • I don’t have time for this!
  • I can’t afford to have an opening right now.
  • I don’t know what to do.
  • They always have an excuse.
  • I don’t want an HR problem on my hands.

I understand it. We avoid it because we are good people and we don’t want to see others out of a job.


Let’s challenge some myths.

No. 1 – I don’t want to offend or hurt them
To me, the biggest misconception is to think the behavior that needs correction defines the person. In other words, we use Billy’s consistently missed deadlines to describe him as undependable and inadequate.

When was the last time you called a kid “stupid” because he placed his hands in the fire? No, the behavior was dumb but the kid is not.

The lesson here is: separate the issue from the person.

When I separate the behavior from the person, I’m able to be extremely direct while still being respectful.

No. 2 – I don’t want to hurt my reputation
Let me ask you something, what are your thoughts about the leader you see avoiding a conversation with the low performing peer? I’m willing to bet money that leader loses credibility with you.

Same thing happens to you, my friend. The more you wait to have the conversation, the more others are talking about you. You think you are being nice, yet, your others think differently.

No. 3 – It’s not really about you
Many managers avoid the conversation because they are worried about what’s happening to them before, during, and after the conversation. Great leaders recognize that it’s not about them or the individual; it’s about the team.

Ultimately, the conversation needs to happen because the team as a whole is suffering. It’s not about what the manager wants to happen; it’s about what the team needs from their players.

And here’s the kicker, most bad performers aren’t even doing it on purpose.

What tips do I have?

  1. Talk about the behaviors as if they were a clothing accessory out of place.
  2. Share your perspective and what story it tells you. Then ask for their point of view.
  3. Remember the excuses and explanations don’t change the fact that expectations aren’t being met.
  4. Help them become aware by using questions not statements.
  5. Reiterate expectations and have them describe for themselves what they mean.

What tips or ideas have you tried in these situations?




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