Magazine article Management Today

First-Class Coach

Magazine article Management Today

First-Class Coach

Article excerpt

Q: As a manager, I like to encourage people and avoid criticising them, as I know I don't respond well to criticism myself. The trouble is that some of the staff who have been here for a while aren't very effective. How can I get them to perform better without having a confrontation?

A: Several of my clients have had a similar issue to yours: allergic to criticism themselves, they go out of their way to avoid conveying 'negative' information to their colleagues. They make the assumption that it is possible to manage their teams without ever mentioning underperformance or even wrongdoing. As a result, they are often disappointed when the output of the people they are responsible for is mediocre, without realising their aversion to criticism has almost certainly contributed to this result.

Instead of tackling issues as they arise, they procrastinate until matters come to a head. Then, because they're not practised at giving constructive feedback and are feeling stressed, they may well blurt out their criticism in an emotional way that sets up resistance in others and makes it unlikely that they will take on board the specifics of what is required in behavioural change. As a result, recipients of the criticism often emerge from the meeting feeling bruised and resentful, but with no real understanding of how to improve their performance.

There are three things you can do to improve your confidence and competence in giving negative feedback constructively. The first is to reframe your concept of criticism from something that hurts people to something that can help them to a better performance, if done in the right way.

Secondly, attend to the content and the priorities that need to be addressed. Clarify what aspects of people's behaviour need to change, so that you can be specific and relevant in what you say. Though there may be several areas of dissatisfaction, restrict yourself to the ones that really matter - the longer the list of your comments, the more likely it is someone will dismiss the lot. For example, you may not like an individual's dress sense, but unless it's so bizarre as to cause offence, it would be better to ignore it and instead focus on the fact that he or she tends to react angrily when asked to do something. Use a recent example, rather than generalised comments such as 'you always' or 'you never', which are much easier to sidestep. …

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