You are picking on me!

It is frustrating when you have given what you believe to be perfectly reasonable feedback and the response you get back is tears and accusations. But here are some simple steps to take to avoid this painful outcome.

In the trailer, the boss is sitting behind a desk with the girl standing in front. This is a classic ‘headmaster’ type of body placement which immediately places the staff member in the role of child, increasing the risk of a childish response.

The answer? Get out from behind the desk and sit alongside them at a table or desk so creating more of a ‘colleague to colleague’ dialogue.

Start the conversation by showing them that you know them, value them and believe in them by saying ‘I know you enjoy customer interaction most in your job and I also know that you want to do a really good job, only last week I saw you ….’ This builds great connection with your staff and balances out any negative feedback you are about to give. Word of caution though, the positive feedback must be completely genuine. It can not be contrived as they will sense manipulation and become wary and sceptical of anything you say later.

Now give them the necessary feedback under the assumption that they have no idea that they are doing anything wrong. ‘I need to talk to you about something you are probably not aware that you are currently doing’. Detail it and provide examples. They will very likely disagree with you here as this is the natural reaction to hearing criticism. Listen to and respect their response. Then say ‘As I said, I don’t think you are aware of it. We all do things habitually without thinking and I believe this one such example for you. Sadly, I have witnessed it on several occasions (giving more examples)’.

They might then hold firm and continue to deny any wrong doing. You then have two options open to you depending upon the seriousness of the issue. If it is serious and you feel you need to make a point you may have to insist that your feedback is correct ‘I do hear what you are saying, however this is a serious matter and I must ask that you ….’ Be aware of your tone of voice here. It could be that they have used an emotional tone of voice to you and in these circumstances it is natural to respond to them with the same degree of emotion. But resist the temptation and make your statement with a calm, neutral and factual tone.

If the issue is less serious you may choose to give the staff member time to consider your feedback and observe themselves in action with this information. If so tell them ‘I appreciate this is new to you. I suggest you think it over, perhaps even checking with colleagues who you are certain would tell you the truth, and that we meet again in two days to discuss this further’.

Whenever the conversation is completed be sure to define exactly what you do want in GREAT detail. Do not assume they will know what you mean by simply stating ‘Don’t do that again’ in all likelihood they will not.

And finally, share your belief and assumption that they will make the necessary changes by telling them ‘You can do this!’ and be sure to congratulate with a simple ‘Well done’ whenever you notice a movement towards the new behaviour.

That’s it! Simple.

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About Sue Ingram

Sue Ingram is Director and Founder of Converse Well, experts in conducting difficult conversations at work. She is an Honorary Teaching Fellow at Lancaster University, contributing workshops on Feedback to students on their International MBA program. Susan has over 25 years experience of conducting crucial conversations with staff, to motivate, to improve performance or to dismiss.