There is so much at stake in a performance conversation, and yet the emotions that flood our brains prevent our pre-frontal cortex from being fully operational. This makes it difficult to truly listen objectively to what the other party is saying.
Most of what is heard is clouded by emotions and therefore subject to cognitive distortions (what we believe before the meeting actually shapes what we hear). In a stressful situation, our biases and instincts take over and cloud our capacity to listen to the other party’s points. This is true for both the manager and their team member.
This is a difficult pattern to control but you can start by acknowledging your emotions and the beliefs you hold before you go into the meeting. Reflect on the following questions:
- What am I expecting to hear?
- What do I believe about my performance this quarter?
Your objective during the meeting will be to seek out and listen for what your manager says that is different to what you believe. This may be positive or negative. Too often, managers feel that they have expressed the feedback many times, but their team member is not hearing the praise or not listening to the constructive advice.
Preparation is also key to ensure you have conveyed the right message succinctly. You can lead the conversation around 3 themes:
1. Review the last few months
Think about what your leader’s agenda is. What is on their score card? What are they reiterating and focusing on? Use these insights to shape your review of what you have delivered.
- What have you worked on / achieved? How is it contributing to the team’s scorecard?
- Where have you fallen short? What have you struggled with? What have you learnt?
- What will you do differently next time?
2. Seek specific feedback
The quality of your questions will define the honesty of the feedback you receive. Most managers find it challenging to share constructive feedback. They package it in the way that will mitigate negative feelings for the recipient but run the risk of being unclear. Knowing exactly what your manager thinks of your performance is a critical factor of success for you. You can ask:
- What have I delivered this quarter that has been most impactful for the team/the business?
- What could I have done differently? Where should my focus have been different? Which relationships should I have managed differently?
- What should I focus on / deliver in the next quarter that will make you feel that I have been successful?
3. Position your next steps
By wanting to have a career conversation, we can come across as too ambitious, pushy or demanding in the eyes of a manager who may be trying to keep their team stable. The key to expressing your ambition without coming across as self-centered is to contextualise your aspirations within the business objectives. You can prepare and share:
- What gets you out of bed in the morning and drives your passion? What are you keen to learn?
- Which other business or activity in the organisation would you like to help support?
- How could you add value to other projects or teams?
Regular manager conversations are ideal to give you more frequent, less stressful opportunities to discuss your career and performance. However, evidence shows that this still happens too infrequently. You can take the lead and schedule these conversations once a quarter in a casual manner. Too much structure creates the intensity you want to avoid so make it as relaxed and conversational as you can while using some of the guidance above to extract the most value out of these conversations.