Crucial Skills®

A Blog by Crucial Learning

Crucial Conversations for Mastering Dialogue

Delivering Tough Performance Feedback

Dear Joseph,

I have an employee who has previous job experience as a manager but who took an entry level role to get into a full-time position with our company. This employee has been making progress learning our company’s policies and procedures and initially showed a great interest in learning as much as possible.

More recently, this employee has become distracted. She turns in work that has been completed half-heartedly. She makes small mistakes that are obviously due to a lack of effort. Now she has applied for a management role in the company. I don’t feel comfortable recommending her based on her current poor work. How do I reenergize this employee? I don’t want this person to feel this is a reprimand—because she hasn’t done anything wrong. I want to inspire her to kick it up a notch and prove she is ready.

Struggling Coach

Dear Struggling Coach,

This is easy! Your last paragraph gives me great hope that your heart is right where it needs to be. You aren’t angry. Your motive is not to punish. It sounds like you want to be honest in your recommendation. You are a person of integrity. And you also want this person to succeed.

Ninety percent of the time ninety percent of our difficulties in crucial conversations are not skill problems but motivation problems. We feel angry, scared, or hurt by others’ behavior and our motive degenerates to wanting to blame, be right, punish, keep the peace, etc. I don’t hear any of that in your question.

So here’s a tip—you already know what to say! When I ask people, “What fears do you have about this crucial conversation?” the words flow freely. They say things like, “I don’t want to hurt them,” or, “I don’t want to lose our relationship,” or, “I don’t want them to think I am angry with them.”

Then I ask, “Okay, so what do you hope happens as a result of the conversation?” Again, they wax poetic and their well-formed thoughts take verbal wing! “I want them to show up on time for meetings,” or, “I want them to succeed.”

We are often like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz; we’re already wearing the very ruby slippers we need in order to get home. You’ve just got to look down to see them. Your ruby slippers are in your last paragraph. Imagine starting your crucial conversation with this person by saying something brilliant like, “I’ve got some feedback I want to share with you. May I? I don’t want you to feel reprimanded—because you haven’t done anything wrong. I want to inspire you to kick it up a notch and prove you are ready.” What a great opener! It’s vulnerable. It’s honest. It’s caring. It has everything you need to start your crucial conversation.

Oftentimes, all you need to do in order to help people feel safe is share what you do and don’t want to have happen in the conversation. If your heart is in the right place, you’re off to a great start.

I wish you and her the best!


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9 thoughts on “Delivering Tough Performance Feedback”

  1. Supervisor

    I’ve had a lot of employees come through who state they are really good at what they do until they start to work for me. If she can’t do the job now, how will she do a management job? Sounds like she is not ready for management. Doesn’t matter she was a manager before. I’ve had a lot of “bad” managers. I would tell the truth. By not telling the truth, you are adding to the problem. If she is not ready or you feel she is not good at what she is doing, then state it. You not doing her or the company any favors by promoting someone that is not ready.

  2. John Sale


    What a terrific example of a servant leader. Engage . . . don’t let the opportunity to motivate pass by. Approach the conversation with good purpose. Be transparent about your intent. Then back it up with actions aligned to your words. – Love it!

  3. Jay Carsten

    Joseph, I am not crazy about your opener: The words I have some feedback, and I don’t want you to feel reprimanded, could elicit a negative emotional response in their mind; How about….. You know I want you to be the best performer you can be, can I give you some informal constructive feedback?

    Share the feedback. If they come across defensive, work to gain trust and a connection by indicating we all have blind spots we need each other to see them. Maybe even share blind spots that your supervisor has pointed out to you.

    I think the opening sentence is critical to convey care, connection and that you are sharing info. in their best interest. The supervisor wins only if the players on the team win. No exceptions, it is a law of life.

    Joseph, I love the stories from you growing up years. Keep them Coming.

    Jay in Texas

  4. Tati

    Nice example. But it seems to me, that, there is more severe issue, than was mentioned in the story by the questioner.. I recognize some personal insecure-ness of the questioner, and possibly some kind of intimidation from the “ex-mgr”; rather than, just poor performance of that so called “ex-mgr”.. In my opinion, the great leader, would look deeper into the root of the cause, instead of giving the “constructive” feedback with some expectations.. Hence, I did not sense the good intent from the questioner nor ownership of the great leadership skills.

  5. How To Give Hard Job Performance Feedback - Activ:8 Career Coaching

    […] recently came across this Joseph Grenny Q&A that I think anyone who’s ever had to give a performance review would find […]

  6. Bobbie Pepper-Penn

    The opening statement, I have feedback probably will work but something else would have been better. Can we talk about you wanting to be a manager.

  7. Maureen Rioux

    I think the opening comments could tend to feel negative right off the bat. In order to motivate you have to keep the topic positive and encouraging.

  8. Can't Seem To Keep A Job? Here's Why -

    […] via […]

  9. Nando

    Great article

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