Performance Discussions - how can we make them more human?

You know it’s nearly time and you’ve been dreading it.  You need to have a performance discussion with one of your team members and you know it’s going to be difficult for you.  And them. 

So how do you have a discussion with someone about their performance in a way that is kind, clear and human?

To begin, think back to your own experience in a performance discussion. 

What was going on in your mind BEFORE it started?  Were you excited and looking forward to having a chance to share?  Were you experiencing feelings of anxiousness and dread?  Were you uncertain because you didn’t know what to expect? 

What was going on in your body DURING the discussion?  Were you relaxed and able to actively listen?  Did you feel your shoulders or neck getting tense, perhaps a knot in your stomach?  Were you clenching your hands or doing your best to keep your emotions and feelings at bay? 

There are lots of normal reactions that arise when a person feels they are being evaluated or reviewed.  While the intention is rarely to make it personal, it almost always will feel personal to the person receiving the feedback and you may not be able to anticipate how they are going to react or respond.


Here’s a few tips to help you set your next performance discussion up to succeed:  

1.  Schedule a time to meet when you can both be fully present without distractions.  Give the discussion and the team member the respect that they deserve.  Nothing signals “this is not important to me” more than rushing or cutting it short due to other commitments. 

2.  Find a place to meet that suits the nature of the discussion.  If meeting in person, find a private place where you can both be at ease and speak openly.  If the discussion is likely to be uncomfortable or challenging, a busy cafe surrounded by other people may not be your best option. 

3. Give online discussions some time and space.  If meeting online, it’s harder to gauge body language so give plenty of time for the other person to respond without jumping in to fill any awkward silences. 

4.   Practice self-awareness and take notice of how you are showing up for the discussion.  Are you distracted by other thoughts at the time?  If you start the discussion stressed, your ability to hold a balanced conversation might be compromised. Would you benefit from a few minutes for a quick walk to clear your head before you start the discussion? 

5.  Check your biases.  Ask yourself how you feel about the person. If you dislike them, your observations (particularly interpretations of what you see) may well be biased.  Do commonalities or differences tend to make your observations more or less accurate?

6.  Be prepared to learn.  Take what you know into the discussion, but be open, curious and prepared to learn new information that might challenge your understanding or interpretation. 

7.  You are reviewing the work, results and behaviours, NOT the person.  It’s not a character assassination.  Share specific examples that support your observations. 

8.  Provide clarity on three key questions:

     -  Where am I going?   What goal or standard is/was required?

     -  How am I going?      Are they on track or off track vs the intended goals?

     -  Where to next?         What do they need to do to stay on track or address the discrepancy?

Even if it's difficult, the kindest and most human performance discussion should leave the other person feeling empowered and knowing there is a shared commitment to help them grow and get better. 

Leanne Hart
09 May 2021

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