Critical Conversations, Positive Outcomes

On 31 July, 2012 in Human Resources by Rosie Overfield

Performance managing staff can be both a rewarding and challenging business.   Even within the most culturally-dynamic veterinary practice situations arise when an employee requires feedback.   In my experience, nothing terrifies a Manager more than having to talk to an employee about their maladapted behaviour!  We perceive it as engaging in conflict and in doing so often put-off having the discussion altogether.    So here are some tips on giving feedback and having ‘those difficult conversations’.

Time it well. In general, feedback is most useful at the earliest opportunity, not in front of others and not in practice rush hour.   Nothing will destroy the trust between yourself and a team member faster than giving feedback months after the event.

Be specific rather than general and avoid emotion/judgement. To be told that one “is dominating” is not as useful as to be told that “poor listening to what others said may cause you to miss a valuable idea”.

Be descriptive rather than evaluative. By describing the behaviour or event, it leaves the individual free to use or not use the information. By avoiding evaluative language, it reduces the prospect of an individual reacting defensively.  Use your practice policies, job descriptions or team values to work from – not yours!

Ask the employee ‘How do you see it?’ and check your systems. Sometimes there is a genuine system issue behind an employee’s inability to perform.   Was the team member trained?  Did we communicate openly?  Have we been clear on expectation?  Sometimes, by asking an employee “How do you see it?” you realise it was the system that failed them.  As Sue Crampton says “remember the 96/4 rule.  96% of the time it is a SYSTEM issue.  Only 4% of the time it is an employee trying their hardest to annoy you!”

Direct feedback toward behaviour that the receiver can do something about. Frustration is only increased when an individual is reminded of shortcomings over which they have no control.

Ensure it is communicated clearly. One way of doing this is to have the receiver rephrase the feedback to see if it corresponds to what you had in mind.  Additionally, assertive ‘I’ phrases can be useful.  This avoids creating defensiveness when the staff member only hears “you don’t do this/you can’t behave like that”.  An example may be “When I hear you gossiping, I feel disappointed because that is not what we do here.  In the future, if you have an issue with me, please come straight to me and I’ll do the same for you.”  In using this phrasing, you can talk about the problem, the impact it has on you but then set guidelines and consequences for future behaviour.




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