People need to know how they are doing in their work. When they are doing well, they need affirmation and when they are not doing well they need confrontation. The conversations when things are not going well are often painful. Here is Dan Rockwell on how to deal with those painful conversations  that most leaders would prefer to avoid.

Originally posted on December 5, 2014  by Dan Rockwell


You make progress.

It feels good.

You lose focus.

Old patterns return.

Nothing changes.

Successful leaders focus on improving performance.


  1. Infrequency. You’re a hand-holding, back-patting leader who procrastinates when it comes to performance conversations.
  2. Ignorance. You don’t understand what makes your people tick. Worse yet, you don’t feel confident in how to bring up performance without sounding mean or aggressive.
  3. Formality. You make performance conversations a big deal rather than a daily deal.


Avoid formal performance conversations as much as possible.


Make performance conversations part of everyday life.

Have performance conversations while walking to lunch.


Follow a performance conversation pattern.

“How’s that project going,” is the beginning of a performance conversation.

“It’s going great.” they reply.

“What are you doing to make it go great?”

Pause. Listen for strengths, passion, and behaviors. “We’re working hard,” isn’t the answer you’re looking for. Watch for them to light up. Follow that topic.

“That’s great. What are the sticking points?”

Pause. Listen for reasons why they aren’t doing as well as they could. Don’t resolve their reasons. (Sticking points are often teammates.)

“What would you like to do about that?”

Listen for behaviors. “Work harder,” isn’t the answer you’re listening for.

Identify simple behavioral responses to sticking points.

Attach a time-frame to the behavior.

“When might you do that?”

“How will you know things are improving?”

Clarity and simplicity are your friend.

Lower expectations. Aim for small gains, frequently.

Frequency enables lower expectations. You don’t need giant leaps.

How can I help?

Let’s talk about this next week.

Cheer when you see success. Explore when when things fall short.

Create situations where stepping forward is more likely than falling short. Create wins.

How can leaders remove the pain from performance conversations?