Performance Conversations aren’t easy.

They are probably one of the most challenging parts of your role as a manager.

Our third and final instalment of the Painless Performance Conversations series is a 6 Step Performance Conversation Model to build your tool kit of skills and put them into action.

View the video below or click here if you missed part 2, or click here if you missed part 1.

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[Video Transcript Below]


6 Step Performance Conversations Model

1 – Explain the Situation management,skills,recruit,interview,performance conversations

Start with an effective opener where you engage the other person’s interest, and invite a response from them.

This allows their brain to classify what the situation is all about.

Then you talk about the facts, use examples, and be concise.

Ask for their view.  For example:

“What do you think about that?” or “How do you feel about that?”

Then talk to them briefly about the effect, or impact this situation has on their behaviour.

Discuss the gap between what is actually happening, and what is expected, and ask for their view again.  What do they think or feel? 

It’s important to keep them engaged and involved the whole way through. Keep their brain really active.

2 – Listen to Understand 

Failing to listen, really listen, is one of the biggest mistakes managers make.

When I’m coaching or watching people in role plays, especially when emotions are running high, listening is the skill that most managers fail to use.

It’s one of your most powerful skills as a leader.

To listen effectively, ensure you paraphrase your understanding of what is being said.  One of the other benefits of doing this, is it also buys your brain some time. It can help settle you.

Listen, paraphrase back, and reflect their emotions too, if that’s appropriate.

Clarify and summarise what is being discussed.

Guide the conversation forward by asking open questions to identify options or ideas.

3 – Explore Options performance conversations

Ask them to share their ideas and perspectives.

Just frame your questions with boundaries around what’s possible and what’s not. For example, budget or time constraints.

Use plural nouns.

Ask questions like, “What ideas do you have?” or “What concerns do you have?” “What suggestions do you have?”

Don’t just say, “What idea do you have?”

Use plural nouns and exploratory language. Incorporate “might”, and “possibly”, and “perhaps”.

This sort of vocabulary is really important. It gives them a sense that you’re open to suggestions and exploring together.

Discuss the ideas and alternatives that come up and begin to get agreement on something.

Even if it’s a basic principle or high-level expectation. You really want to get a feeling of commitment.

4 – Move Toward Solutions 

Always use what, and how questions, not why.

We’re focusing on what’s possible and do-able, then reality checking those solutions.

It’s almost like the funnel is wide when we’re exploring options in step 3, and now we’re narrowing down and really getting a sense of what you will realistically do going forward.

Making sure that you have ownership of the solution by them. That is so important for them to make progress.

They are much more likely to implement their solution, than your solution!

5 – Find Agreement performance conversations

What will you ask to clarify agreement?

You may need to do this a couple of times.

This has got something to do with the way our brain works.

You need to be specific and clear about your expectations of what needs to be done, by who, and when.

Agree on the next steps. Then re-state your commitments to them.

6 – Express Confidence

What will you say to convey your confidence and belief in their ability to resolve this, and meet your expectations?

Obviously, this needs to be sincere.

Final Note

I’ve used this model to expand 2 areas of the BEAF model; the Engage and Action section, from the Great Managers Academy.

Because this is where I see a lot of people struggle.

I often see managers struggling with listening skills, and not applying them effectively.

Then I see them fall into the trap of asking closed questions, rather than open questions.

Closed questions will happen to us by default when emotions are running high and we’re not managing our emotions well.

Think about these Performance Conversations skills as a support system for you.

If you listen, this will help you manage your emotions.

If you ask good questions, this will get the other person thinking and contributing.

research,thoughts,goals,performance conversatiionsThey’re very powerful, very valuable skills.

The other mistake that I see managers make is thinking they have to respond to every question or comment the other person makes.

Often in a Performance Conversation, the other person will be trying to “bait” you.

They’ll be throwing furphies, off on a tangent, and off you go following every little thing they throw at you.

You do not need to answer every single question or comment they make! Sometimes you need to sit quietly and just let it land.

Remember that you must work with what is going on right in front of you.

Your Performance Conversations may not always be a neat linear process, like the 6 steps I’ve just taken you through and you might need to go backwards and forwards as necessary.

This is why a script or reams of notes just don’t work.

I hear people say, “But I made loads of notes before that conversation!”

You only need your notes about the facts and examples, but then you need to be able to work in real-time with what’s going on in front of you.

You need to stay very present and use the toolkit of Critical Conversation skills you learn in the Great Managers Academy.


I’ve adapted this model from Marnie Green’s book, Painless Performance Conversations, as well as content from the Great Managers® Academy.

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