By their very nature, conversations with individuals about their performance are personal. These can be the most difficult and contentious aspects of a sales manager's responsibilities.

It is generally easier to praise than criticise but in any performance review or discussion, sales managers must show their views are carefully considered, based on adequate observation and, importantly, on hard evidence.

It is essential for managers to be scrupulously fair and consistent in the way they address individual performance across the team, and to the way they address the performance of an individual over a period.

Potentially difficult encounters with under-performing team members can be defused by careful use of language and focussing on performance rather than the individual.

When approaching potentially difficult workplace conversations, sales managers need to have realistic expectations. 

Depending on circumstances and personalities, these encounters may be formal or informal, but not always pleasant or relaxed. It is not a casual chat between friends, even if the people involved are on friendly terms.

These tips can help line managers avoid the classic pitfalls that make potentially difficult conversations turn 'toxic':

  • avoid a combat mentality – aim for a win-win, otherwise everyone loses
     
  • don’t over-simplify; break down complex problems and deal with each element in turn
     
  • show respect the other person and yourself by keeping the content clear, using a neutral tone, temperate phrasing and being respectful
     
  • if things get heated, don't be goaded to smooth things over or lash out, stay focused on your desired outcome
     
  • prepare what you want to say, but don’t use a script; anticipate reactions and decide your desired outcome. Be prepared to listen and respond accordingly
     
  • don't lose sight of the goal.

When approaching potentially difficult workplace conversations, sales managers need to have realistic expectations.