A Compassionate Approach to
Turning Around Performance Problems

Copyright 2012 Carol James, Founder of InspiredLiving.com

His resume looked great and his references checked out, and the first few months of his work were exemplary. But lately, you’ve noticed that his work is not up to par. It’s been sloppy, he’s missed a few deadlines, and you’ve had complaints about his attitude. You talked to him about the problems, and he said he would try to do better, but the problems persist. Now you’re thinking about firing him and writing it off as another hiring mistake.

But wait, don’t take such a drastic action until you are sure you know what the real problem is and whether it can be resolved.

A sudden drop in performance is often a symptom of stress overload. Some people know how to set aside stressful feelings so as not to interfere with their work. Others use stress as a motivator to work even harder. But for some people, stress distracts them from doing their best.

Often you can turn the situation around using a compassionate approach. For instance:

  • Sincerely want to help the person. You must approach him from the perspective that he is an excellent employee who is just going through a difficult time. In your heart, you must really care about him and want to see him succeed. If you don’t feel that way, you are the wrong person to talk with him.
  • Hold a vision of him working at his best. You already know he is capable of that, so holding that vision as you talk with him will help keep you focused on the results you want.
  • Set aside your personal feelings and approach him with compassion and understanding. Speak with gentleness and caring, remembering that what you say is not nearly as important as how you say it. Your body language, voice modulation and facial expressions convey your true feelings, so if you are faking it, he will know.
  • Point out his strengths and what he has done right instead of focusing on what’s wrong because if he feels that you are threatening or attacking him, he will either get defensive or shut down, which will defeat the purpose of the discussion.

When you discover what’s going on for him, help him to look at it from a different, more empowering perspective. Stress often comes from feeling helpless, hopeless or diminished, and a viewpoint change goes a long way toward changing feelings, which automatically reduces the tension level.

By helping him look beyond his present circumstances and brainstorming ways to deal more effectively with his situation, you will be teaching him skills for life. As a manager, that’s a potent way to empower people to do their best, which is a manager’s most important role.

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