Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Feedback: "You're too ____"

Actions to take: Ensure that all the feedback you give is about behaviors not about traits. Avoid descriptive language that has any subjectivity to it. Comment on factual, observable behaviors that the employee engages in. 

How many of you have received feedback from your boss that started with the phrase, "You're too ___" (and bosses, be honest, how many of you have given feedback that started that way)? How did that conversation go? You were probably mature enough to avoid disagreeing about it too much. But I bet you were worked up after you left the boss's office. I bet you were arguing with them in your head for days. 

"You're too ___" is not an effective way to help someone improve, for one simple reason. You are commenting on who they are rather than what they are doing. We all know most natural response to "You're too ___." "No I'm not!" The employee cannot help but get defensive. It is human nature. 

These conversations are a lot of wasted effort. I don't care if your employee really is too whatever they are. It's not about who is right and who is wrong. It's about saving yourself the hassle of having a conversation about right and wrong. 

Instead, only give feedback about observable behaviors, things that you can factually describe to the employee. Examples:

  • Bad: You frequently get angry with customers, which makes them uncomfortable with you.
  • Good: When you raise your voice and talk over the customers, the conversations go poorly. What can you do differently? 
  • Bad: You're always late.
  • Good: When you show up late, it causes some issues. Can you make the effort to get in on time?
  • Bad: Your lack of organization makes you miss deadlines.
  • Good: When you miss deadlines, it pushes others' work back and causes delays. Do you want to work together on strategies to avoid it? 
As long as you are commenting on an employee's behavior, it becomes possible to give feedback on virtually anything. Give feedback on 1) anything that you would like the employee to keep doing or 2) anything you would like to see them do differently. With the casual, low-stakes feedback formula that this blog advocates, it really is that broad.

Average bosses see problem behavior over and over before they give feedback. When they do, they have the pattern stuck in their head. The feedback becomes about the employee instead of about the behavior. Better bosses give feedback when things are still small. They know to keep opinions about the person out of it and just focus on the behaviors they are engaging in. 

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