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You look like a total A#% !!

Sometimes we just have to call it as we see it. Yes, that is the responsibility of a good manager. A huge part of leadership and coaching is providing candid feedback to our employees and by candid, I mean hard, border line harsh, feedback.  You see, sometimes people just don’t get the message and you have you have to hit them right in the face with the cold hard truth (metaphorically speaking of course).

DonkeyI coach my operations partners on having these difficult conversations whereby I get them to focus on the impact of the employee’s (poor) behaviour instead of the behaviour itself. Meaning, if someone is constantly late for work, instead of accusing or identifying tardiness as the issue, focus on the impact their behaviour has on others: i.e. it creates more work, meetings need to be rescheduled or started over due to the disruption, etc. Whatever the impact is to you and your team, you need to have the employee understand that. In an overly simplistic way, it is, “When you do THAT, THIS is the result.”

Often the issues we deal with are far more impactful than tardiness or dress code violations (shudder). This is especially true when the issue majorly impacts multiple co-workers and/or clients directly. I have had managers use the approach that I outlined above and despite their best efforts, the message just doesn’t sink in with the employee. Sometimes the employee simply doesn’t care, perhaps the manager is too nice in their delivery or the employee could be a total sociopath or narcissist and is oblivious to their impact on others. That is when it is time to pull out the big guns.

For example, let’s say we have an employee named “Brad.” Brad has been coached many times by his manager on his abrupt and abrasive communication style with his peers, manager and with customers. Here is the thing, Brad is a bright guy. He is pretty switched on and has a lot of good ideas on how to solve problems. However, Brad would prefer to point out other people’s flaws in their ideas and thinking as opposed to actually providing solutions. Brad also likes to get on his proverbial soapbox and preach to others about all the things they have done wrong and how he can’t support this or that. Brad also likes to lecture in emails and express his displeasure with organizational decisions this way. In short, Brad has become a major pain in the ass to deal with.

Brad’s manager has tried coaching him nicely but Brad doesn’t get it. So Brad’s manager needs to get a bit medieval with him. Oh and by the way, to further compound the issue, Brad himself is a manager so we now have a major problem to deal with. So here is how the conversation goes:

  • Brad’s Manager: “Brad, I wanted to speak to you about something very important and critical to you success. As you may remember, we have had many conversations about your tone, communication style and professionalism with your emails and verbal communication.”
  • Brad: “uh, ok, sure, I guess.”
  • Brad’s Manager: “Brad, let me be very clear as we move forward. When you disregard my coaching and feedback, as well as my advice and examples on how to properly and effectively communicate, it makes me feel as though you do not want to be part of this team. I need players on this team that want to win with me. In order to do so, I need you to accept my coaching and feedback. I don’t mind if you have a concern about something or feel the need to express a contrary opinion; however, you do that behind closed doors with me – not in emails, not verbally in front of staff, your peers or customers.”
  • Brad: “well, that isn’t really want I am trying to do. It is just that others aren’t listening to me and I am getting frustrated because they just don’t get it.”
  • Brad’s Manager: “Brad, I understand that that is how you feel; however, the bottom line is that when you act this way, you come across like a total ass. Your behaviour is comparable to that of a spoiled child. When you don’t get your way, you take your toys and go home. Your peers and staff have lost respect for you and you need to earn that back. The 1st step in doing so is to stop acting like an ass and accept my feedback. Can you commit to doing that?”
  • Brad: “Uh, um, er, well, gee, uh, I didn’t mean to, well, that is pretty harsh, I didn’t want to, uh, um, er…..yes.”
  • Brad’s Manager: “Thanks Brad, I am looking forward to seeing an immediate improvement.”

Perhaps not all conversations go quite that way, but for the most part, that is an effective way to have that conversation. The manager did several impactful things there:

  1. They identified the problem and referred to previous conversations about the issue (in other words, not the first time the employee has been spoken to)
  2. They referred to specific examples and not nebulous comments
  3. They identified the impact to the company, Brad, his team, customers and staff
  4. The (limited) use of swearing was impactful. It wasn’t something normally done but it made a powerful point
  5. The manager was clear about what would happen if the behaviour didn’t change
  6. The manager asked for a firm commit for immediate and sustained change

It isn’t an overly difficult or prescriptive formula; however, it works. Call out the behaviour; don’t be afraid to tell the employee their behaviour is making them look like an ass. Believe me, they will hear you. You need to help them understand that they are damaging their own personal brand, reputation and are losing respect (from others) by doing what they are doing. It is a path of self-destruction they are going down – you need to help them see that and that as their manager, it is your responsibility to identify and communicate this problem to them. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesyof Evgeni Dinev/FreedDigitalPhotos.net

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