Getting Employees to Talk

How to Push a Conversational Boulder


Some conversations with employees may feel as if you are pushing a boulder uphill.

It SHOULD feel that way–slow, arduous, and deliberate–if you are guiding the conversation successfully. Here’s what I mean.

Your job is to coach the employee to their own conclusions and solutions.  If you give them the answers, they are compliant.  If they come up with the answers, they own the solution.  Performance-related conversations, especially the tough ones, involve the employee in defining the problem and in identifying solutions. That’s a painless performance conversation.

Painless performance conversations follow a predictable pattern:

1. Explain the situation and why the issue is important.
2.  Listen and probe.  Ask the employee for his/her view.
3. Find agreement on what success looks like.
4. Discuss alternatives for achieving success.
5. Agree on specific actions.
6. Express confidence and set a follow-up.

As you follow this conversation model, it may feel like you are pushing a boulder up a mountain. That’s because the hardest parts are at the beginning, when you are trying to establish and maintain momentum. Steps one and two are the uphill part of the climb. In particular, step two, asking the employee for his/her view, is the step we are most likely to skip. When you skip step two and jump to giving alternatives, you most likely will have to return to the beginning of the climb. If you can endure what often feels like the difficult part, asking and listening, you will eventually be able to reach the summit of the conversation, which is agreement on what success looks like. From there, the downhill is easy and fast. Here’s how the conversational mountain might look:

Don’t let the uphill part of the journey keep you from reaching your goal of helping the employee improve his or her performance.


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