by Lucy Freedman
Q. I have to give a difficult annual performance review to an
employee with whom I get along ok, but whom I don't feel I really
understand. I don't have serious complaints, I just think she
is too political. She wants to please and seems to adapt her messages
to accommodate the audience. How do I encourage someone to be
more decisive - it's kind of subtle issue. To be honest in the
review, I need to talk with her about it. I am afraid that I will
make the situation worse and she will be even more defensive.
A. First of all, performance appraisals are among the situations
that bring up the most intense psychological issues, usually compounded
by the clumsiness of such systems and a series of bad memories
on both sides about them. You can handle the appraisal situation
as well as possible by using Syntax to work it through, and you
should also do what you can to change the feedback system to avoid
all the baggage that goes with this outdated method.
Learning depends on frequent and direct feedback
given in a positive way. Decisions about raises shouldn't be combined
with attitudinal or interpersonal coaching. Put energy into changing
the expectations about annual performance reviews, partly by giving
helpful feedback and recognizing accomplishments that have a direct
connection to the success of the business.
Within this review, or any other feedback sessions
you have, here are five tips for applying syntax and keeping the
Plan: The best results come after you have answered honestly to
yourself (for some people it is better to have a sounding board
to help get through this step) what your intended result of the
conversation is, and what that will get you. Mentally rehearse
being at the end of the successful review and hear and see the
evidence that you have reached that goal. Notice whether conflicting
goals surface for you. Either make notes for yourself to sort
out the goals, or talk confidentially with a third party.
Clarify your priorities so that you will be able
to state your desired result when you open the review conversation.
For example," I want to talk through my assessments about
your performance and your accomplishments, make some requests
to follow through on, and hear your thoughts about how we can
best move toward new achievements from here on. What are your
goals for this conversation?"
Link: Acknowledge any issues about communication
between the two of you in a non-blameful way. Being candid, i.e.
"I appreciate our work together, and want to improve on it.
This can be uncomfortable to discuss and I am not always sure
how to make myself clear or find out what you think. Please help
me guide this conversation so it is most productive for you as
well as for me."
Balance: When you feel you have a complaint
or something to criticize, try framing it as a request. You may
have built up a negative charge that justifies coming down on
the person in the review. What if you simply ask her clearly for
what you want? If the issue seems to be a trait like decisiveness,
your answers to the questions about your desired result should
have given you a concrete idea of what to ask for. You can describe
the experience you have that you want changed, and ask if the
person recognizes what you are talking about. She can probably
take it from there, if she has a clear understanding. To keep
the power over her behavior clearly in her own hands, and avoid
micromanaging, you can ask her to tell you some indicators you
should watch for as a sign that she is doing what you ask. Less
is more at this point.
Inform: If she doesn't understand what
you are asking for, you can provide answers or ask for her interpretation
of the situations you are discussing with her. The more that you
elicit from her "map" of the situation, the better you
can be in supporting her good intentions and skills and not discouraging
or limiting her.
Learn: the whole situation should be framed
as learning. This means that you are approaching it to learn,
not just to deliver a message. Her feedback to you about how the
conversation is or isn't helpful, and your openness to hearing
it, is a strong message and a model of what you want. You have
been decisive and clear in asking for specific changes, now you
are able to receive feedback and take it in. She may still have
feelings or issues, or may need to assess her own skills and develop
some new ones before you get the result you want.
By using Syntax to plan and conduct the meeting,
you can focus on what you want rather than your anticipation of
a difficult conversation. And by initiating more frequent feedback
you can keep future situations from being a negative buildup.
Your own role as coach, helping yourself and others learn, will
be strengthened in this way.
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