Do you dread a leading performance conversation?

Do you ever lie awake at night worrying about a conversation that needs to take place? I used to… but not anymore! Once I learned to be curious.

When I first became a supervisor, if I had to talk with an employee who wasn’t performing, I’d lay awake the night before and play worst case scenarios’ over and over again. Until I realized the approach to take was one of curiosity. As Douglas Stone reminds us in his book Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most “Difficult conversations are almost never about getting the facts right. They are about conflicting perceptions, interpretations, and values.”

Once I began asking questions instead of making statements statement the conversations began to change, and performance was improved.

Asking questions that start with the word “what” get a better response then questions that starts with the word “why”. Questions that start with “why” can put people on the defensive. For example, “why were you late”, is asking someone for an excuse. Instead ask, “what is makes it hard for you to be on time?” This question allows you to come from a place of curiosity and proceed with a problem-solving discussion.

Shift from asking why to asking what in your conversations this week. Come back and post your experience here.

The toughest lesson I’ve learned as a supervisor was to avoid stating my opinion and ask a question instead.

In June of 2012 I took a new job and had a team of 7 direct reports. During one of the first meetings I had with my team we were discussing the process used to respond to client voice mail. At the time all calls were answered by an automated system. We were meeting because over the last several weeks we had customer complaints that calls were not being returned and appointments were not being scheduled. Was this the fault of the system or was one of the team not doing their job?

I began the meeting by outlining what I thought was the solution. No discussion took place. Everyone said – OK that’s what we will do. The problem was I didn’t know all the steps involved. A better course of action would have been to open the meeting with a probing question. Probing questions start with what as opposed to why. When you start a conversation with a what question it allows people to open up and share their experience and ideas. When you start with a why question it puts people on the defensive. We did resolve the issue, but it took a couple more meetings and a few more customer complaints. We would have solved the problem sooner had I started with a question to solicit input from the team and not my opinion about what needed to be done.

Would you like my free guide to effective questions to ask during meetings? Comment below and I will send it your way.