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Don’t Make Employees Mad with a Poorly Delivered Message

Many managers are adept at the objective parts of performance discussion performance, but nearly all of them dread initiating conversations about personal issues such as behaviors and attitudes. The traditional method by which they are taught to provide performance feedback to employees, sometimes referred to as "constructive criticism," is often the very reason they avoid, water down or delay giving feedback in the first place.

That kind of feedback typically sounds like "here’s the problem, here are the examples of your shortcomings and this is the negative impact." Inherent limitations with this kind of communication frequently manifest as follow:

  • From the employee’s perspective performance discussions often come across as finger pointing, fault finding and disciplinary.
  • Nearly all managers dread initiating performance conversations, particularly if the issue relates to an unproductive or disruptive behavior.
  • Performance issues are ignored or handled poorly, so the resulting issues usually land on the doorstep of HR.

So what can managers do about it? How can they create talking points that are honest, not watered down, yet hearable and sayable?

Understanding Uncensored Perceptions is the key. These are the real feelings about a person or circumstance, which would be inappropriate to share in their raw form. "He’s so high-maintenance," "She’s a slacker" and "I can’t stand it when they do that" are examples of feelings managers might have but are appropriately unwilling to share.

That’s probably a good thing, yet most often the manager simply won’t say anything at all so the person who should be receiving feedback misses out on the opportunity to gain some awareness around a key issue.

Negative to Positive

If you are a manager experiencing this sort of problem, try taking your negative thought and translating it into language that describes the exact opposite.  The result should be that you are thinking and talking in terms of what you want to have happen as opposed to talking about the problem behavior or performance (a surefire way to get the person on the receiving end to react defensively).

Here are some examples of negative thoughts translated into "develop the ability to" statements:

  • Excuse Expert
    Put your energy into identifying solutions
    Be accountable for overcoming roadblocks
  • Doesn’t take responsibility
    Take Full Responsibility for……(fill in the blank)
    Take Ownership of… …(fill in the blank)
  • Lack of confidence
    Develop the confidence to…(fill in the blank)
  • Ends justifies the means
    Means is just as important as the end
  • Rude and nasty to co-workers
    Interact respectfully with co-workers
  • Lacks willingness to adapt
    Readily adapt when it comes to (fill in the blank)…
    Focus your energies on adapting to……(fill in the blank)
  • Tattle tale
    Overlook issues that are outside of your control
  • Interruptive (cuts other people off mid-sentence)
    Allow others to finish expressing their thoughts
  • No desire to learn on their own
    Take the initiative to add to your job knowledge
  • Over promises
    Promise what you know you can deliver
  • My way or the highway
    Be open to considering other approaches
  • When the going gets tough they get going
    Stick with and deal with difficult problems
  • Makes assumptions
    Make conclusions based on facts
  • Sweats the small stuff
    Put things into perspective by sorting through the big things and setting the smaller things aside
  • Liar / Dishonest
    Communicate information that is based on fact
  • Condescending to those who are less experienced
    Use your experience and knowledge to mentor those with less experience

This Works With ANY Issue

The lesson here is that anything we don’t like or have a problem with can be translated into a future-focused thought that describes what the performance could and should be. Realize that the statements above are just the beginning of the conversation because we’ll then need to explain in detail what we mean by "Use your experience and knowledge to mentor those with less experience." We will need to reach agreement with the employee on what the associated actions will be in order to meet the performance objective.

So for example you would then want to follow with something like, "can we talk about what that would look like?" or I’m thinking of a few ways that this could be done, can we put our heads together and talk about some of those ideas together?"

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