“He told me not to worry about it,” began the conversation with a recently let go friend. “I just don’t understand what happened. He said it wasn’t a big deal.” The more my friend talked, the more I winced. It was clear what had happened. His boss had actually been honest when giving the corrective feedback conversation. The problem was the supervisor immediately minimized the conversation they had just undergone. What he had done was indeed a “big deal” and he should have worried about it enough to make sure it never happened again.
It is okay to be uncomfortable
When we can’t deal with the discomfort that sometimes comes after a corrective conversation or even a conversation where we are just expressing our boundaries or what we need to see happen in a given situation, it’s human nature to then minimize that discomfort. It’s in this discomfort, though, that we can lose our authenticity. In an effort to reduce or eliminate this anxiety, we can often say things that we hope will make the person still feel good about themselves or to not feel too bad about the situation. When we do this though, we erase the impact and importance of the conversation we just had.
In the same way that physical discomfort will make us shift the position of our bodies, emotional discomfort will lead us to shift the position of our minds. The resolution of the anxiety needs to happen within the other person for the mental change to occur. When we instantly alleviate that discomfort for them, we have taken away the exact thing that would have caused them to change their behavior. In essence, you have then gone through the effort of having the difficult conversation for nothing.
On a scale of 1 to 10 how bad is it?
Learn to rate how bad something is before having any type of corrective conversation. With 10 being "I should probably fire you for this" and 1 being this is no worse than a mouse's sneeze, rate the level of the problem. If you would rate it a 1 or 2, then there really isn't a need to have the conversation. Too much correction really is as bad as too little.
If it's an 8-10, you need to go into the meeting having some consequences for the person if it happens again along with an expectations statement of what you need to see change or improve.
Say only what is true, useful, and kind
You may want to share this scale with the person you are correcting -- even if it is just for clarity. "What you did is probably a seven on the problem scale," wouldn't be such a bad phrase to say. Or, sometimes if we are really honest we could say, "I would call what you did a four but because this complaint is coming from a director, you should know this an eight." Anything you can do to relate the severity in an effective way the better.
Communicating through a ranking scale may not work for every leader but the spirit here is to also create a commonly shared language around this with you and the employee or volunteer. This makes sure we are comparing apples to apples during the discussion.
To quote the Buddha though, "Say only what is true, useful, and kind." Correct only after you have verified that what needs to be corrected is true, that it will indeed be useful feedback, and that you can deliver the message in a kind way.
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