Why Does the Conversation Fail? Managing difficult appraisals

Our Managing difficult appraisals course deals mainly with the difficulties that arise when we are appraising employees who are substandard in performance, behaviour or attitude. This type of interview needs to be handled well if the manager is to make the best of the performance appraisal. Handled badly and both manager and employee may walk away frustrated and demotivated. Handled well and a highly productive meeting can reinvigorate a poorly performing employee.

Why Does the Conversation Fail?

Russ McDonald is the sales manager and John Gale the production manager in a company that makes boxes for agricultural produce. Russ met John Gale in his office late one Monday evening and the following conversation took place:

Russ McDonald: We’ve just got a big order from Topco. They said they must have it delivered by next Friday otherwise they will go elsewhere

John Gale: We are not geared up to take a big order by next Friday. All the machines have been set up and it will take a lot of time to reset them.

Russ McDonald: Yes, but I have been chasing Topco for a long time. This is the first big order they have given us.

John Gale: That may be so but you should find out if we can do the job before you go off making wild promises. There’s no way we can do a big order by Friday. We are fully stretched.

Russ McDonald: You production people get me down. It takes me ages to get an order from Topco and then you are not prepared to put yourself out to supply them.

It is clear that this conversation is on a collision course. Neither McDonald nor Gale seem interested in exercising conversation control. Both are intent on getting across their point and blaming the other person. Such behaviour is not going to resolve the problems which are that:

  1. McDonald has made a promise to Topco about the supply of materials by next Friday.
  2. Gale has said that he cannot supply the product by that time.

In communication terms this meeting is failing because both people, despite the rights and the wrongs of the issue, are not controlling the conversation in the most effective way. We can look at what is happening in terms of the way they manage their requests and statements. Where do you consider the conversation is taking place when examined in the context of the figure below.

General information

 Specific information

1. Open questions

2. Closed questions

3. General statements

4. Detailed statements

Giving and gaining information model

Clearly both McDonald and Gale are making one statement after another, and the statements tend to be more general than specific. In all conversations it is difficult to get to the centre of a problem unless people start making some specific requests for information rather than just reiterating statements and blaming others.

As McDonald and Gale were having this conversation, Don Harper, their manager, was passing by and enquired what the problem was. He knows that McDonald is bit impetuous at times and that Gale could be a bit conservative and pessimistic.  Rather than blame either party he decided to exercise some questioning and statement skills to help both parties to understand each other’s situation.  In particular he decided to focus his conversation initially on:

• requests

• specific information

• factual information

He asks the following questions

Harper: How big is the Topco order?

McDonald: They want 50,000 boxes 10 x 8 size.

Harper: When do they want it?

McDonald: They said by next Friday.

Harper: What time?

McDonald: I suppose mid-day

Harper: John, how long will it take to set up 10 x 8 to run 50,000?

Gale: Some of the machines are already doing 10 x 8 now.

Harper: Are those orders urgent or for stock?

Gale: I think some are urgent but we are also making some for stock.

Harper: Look, we need to see how we can resolve this issue. Russ, you get back on to Topco and ask them when do they need the delivery. Is it early Friday or will Monday morning do as they probably won’t use them over the weekend? John, you have a look at the priorities and the making for stock position. Also check what it will cost to run a weekend shift if necessary.

Here Don Harper is clearly exercising excellent communication skills and acting as a link person. He changes the conversation by making a lot of specific requests for facts. Before that the conversation had been exactly the opposite, with both parties concentrating on general statements about personal feelings.

The result of this intervention was that McDonald found out that Topco did not need the boxes till Monday morning and Gale came back to say that with the boxes being made for stock plus some weekend work the job could be done. Harper had changed what could be a major conflict into a problem-solving meeting.

Managing the Difficult Appraisal Course Agenda



Introduction/course aims and objectives

  • Understanding the appraisal process
  • Benefits of constructive appraisals
  • Reasons for ineffective appraisals
  • The interview structure and essential appraisal preparation
  • Setting the scene and relaxing the appraisee

11.00-11.15 – Break


Reviewing past performance constructively

  • How to give negative feedback constructively
  • How to discuss difficult issues sensitively
  • Appraising the employee with attitude and behavior issues
  • Using praise to disarm difficult appraisees

Setting clear and realistic objectives

  • Understanding the power of SMART objectives and effective follow-up



How to avoid appraisal pitfalls

  • Managing inefficiency and poor performance
  • Tackling attitude and behaviour issues
  • Dealing with non-responsive and aggressive employees
  • Handling appraisees who don’t react well to negative criticism
  • Giving feedback to appraisees who don’t believe they have any faults
  • Handling issues raised regarding performance-pay


Follow through post appraisal

  • Handling the reactions of the difficult conversation
  • Follow through and managing the relationship after the meeting
  • Course close and paperwork

Why choose Total Success for your training?

  • our lead trainers have over 18 years experience in training
  • a maximum of 8 delegates means more time spent on individual needs
  • we guarantee to run the course and will never cancel at the last moment
  • free subscription to our monthly training newsletter
  • All open courses are trained in Central London at the St Giles Hotel.

Each delegate receives a comprehensive training workbook that doubles as an open course manual. Courses run from 9.30-5.30 with lunch and refreshments provided.

In-Company Courses

Each organisation has its own specific way of planning, organising, conducting and evaluating the performance appraisal process. Total Success have developed a series of in-house training modules. These are designed so that an organisation can pick the training which is more applicable to its own needs and budget.

The training subjects and recommended timings are shown below. You are able to choose the training sessions and build your own course within an agreed course schedule.

The benefits to you are:

  • The course fits your organisational needs exactly
  • You are able to set courses which are more applicable to different departments and groups within your organisation
  • You can plan the course to fit your budget
  • You are more in control of the course content

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