Clients have asked me to deliver that message. I’m often seen as the last chance to correct a leadership issue that has derailed a leader. On one hand, they see me as an investment in trying to save the leader. On the other hand, they’re hiring me to deliver the message that wasn’t heard: “Either change or lose your job.”
A few times I’ve had the opportunity to look back over several performance reviews. I’ve found it fascinating that the issue is always there, in writing, in past reviews. Why wasn’t the message heard?
“Why hasn’t anyone told me this before?” This is the response that I always hear. They just heard from me that they may lose their job and they’re shocked. “Nobody ever told them before!” When I point out that I see the issue in their performance reviews they still seemed shocked. “Yes, it’s there, but I didn’t know it was that bad.”
Bill Benjamin with IHHP speaks to this issue in a course called “Difficult Conversations” as part of “the Performing Under Pressure series”.
Here is a distinct pattern we see over and over again in the leadership development training programs we run: when leaders face a difficult conversation, a feedback conversation or a performance review, most cover 85, 90 or 92% of the content of what they want to say in the conversation, but a funny thing happens when they get to the more difficult part of the conversation, what we call the Last 8%. When they hit this part of the conversation—where there are consequences to what they are saying—they start to notice that the other person is becoming more anxious and (because emotions are infectious) they themselves become more anxious.
It is at this stage when many, out of anxiety, avoid the last 8% of the conversation and never tell the other person the entire feedback they have for them. The conversation ends and both individuals leave thinking they had the full conversation. Of course, they never did.
Yet neither fully comprehends it. First, the person on the receiving end can’t read the leaders mind and so walks away thinking they had the full conversation. The leader thinks they talked about most of what they wanted to talk about and deludes themselves into thinking they had the full conversation.
That description of the missing 8% explained a lot. The leader would always say to me, “Of course I talked to them about the issue. I made it very clear they needed to correct this.” The receiver would always say to me, “Why didn’t anyone tell me this before? Why didn’t they make it clear to me?”
The last 8%. Are you finishing your conversations? Are you pushing through to the end? Does the other person understand? Just because you said it doesn’t mean you communicated it. Did the other person hear you? Do they understand the gravity of the situation?
By not finishing the feedback you may be avoiding pain and suffering at the moment. But the future pain and suffering far outweigh avoidance. Avoidance of pain and suffering leads to mental illness. That’s what Dr. Scott Peck taught us in his book The Road Less Traveled.
Don’t avoid. Persevere.