Wow that sucks

How do you tell someone when their work needs improvement?  We’ve all been there… one of our co-workers or bosses (or children) brings us something for review and it’s just not good.  Ideally the person knows they need help and readily accepts your critique.  What happens when the person really believes it’s up to snuff, but it really requires a trip back to the drawing board?

Your level of diplomacy should depend on the situation, but  I generally follow three rules for giving guidance: 

1)     Ask if they want your help.  My friend Stephen Richardson phrases it this way, “Do you want to make this even better?”  If someone says no, then you’re wasting your time.  If they’re open to improvement, move on to rule 2.

2)     Critique the work, not the person.  Coming right out with “Wow, you really suck!” (I actually heard that once in my life) is different than “I think this work is not up to your usual high standards.”

3)     Align the work with a goal.  If something is off the mark, it may be that there is no mark… no goal or clear purpose for the audience.  This is the secret to good guidance.  Ask them “What are you trying to accomplish with this?”  After listening carefully to the answer, follow with “Well, if you want to do that, I suggest trying a different approach like (insert suggestion here).”

I had an interesting experience the last time I served on a jury.  An otherwise open-and-shut case was almost lost because the prosecuting attorney’s performance was just awful.  The defense attorney’s presentation was polished, competent and compelling. The prosecutor bumbled through her presentation, mixed up facts, leaned uncomfortably on the lectern and did not once make eye contact with any of us in the jury box.  She was lucky to get a guilty verdict from us.

The judge invited us to talk with the prosecution and defense in the hallway after the trial if we wanted to.  I was in a hurry to get home and almost walked on by, but decided to reach out to the young prosecutor.  I asked if she wanted to hear my opinion on the proceedings and how she could improve her presentation skills for next time. 

She almost broke down in tears with gratitude.  “This is only my second trial and I would LOVE to get some feedback.  They teach us a lot in law school, but nearly nothing on presentation skills!”

After explaining how I, as a juror, felt when she exhibited the distracting behaviors, her eyes lit up with understanding.  I never said that SHE was awkward.  I pointed out her occasionally awkward verbiage and body language and the effect it had on my receptiveness.

I ended with alignment to a goal.  “If you really want to bring your facts to life for a jury, I suggest you videotape yourself and ask for colleagues to evaluate you outside the courtroom.  Eye contact is probably your #1 key to credibility, and could really make a difference the next time you have a case that could go either way.”

When you follow the three rules of coaching, you’ve got them listening, you’re focused on the work (not the person) and you’re working together toward a goal that matters.  And that… does not suck.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Communication, Motivation

4 Comments on “Wow that sucks”

  1. Annette Williams Says:

    I had a situation recently at my daughter’s high school JV softball game. A grandmother on the other side was obnoxiously cheering non-stop. Normally, this would be fine… but her team was up 30-0. The grandmother wasn’t saying anything bad about our team but her excessive cheering was over board at this point. My daughters team were already losing big time and they didn’t need to be reminded of it.

    I realized I needed to say something for my own piece of mind. So I walked over there and politely asked “do you know what the score is?”. She said, “no I don’t”. I said, “well your team is creaming us and so maybe you could consider how the girls on the other team might be feeling right now.” She tried to pick a fight with me, saying you can’t tell me what to do! But I never told her what to do… I never told her to shut up.. and I never said she was rude. I just asked her to consider how the other girls might be feeling. By not directly critizing her she had no argument to make with me. Take that granny! It’s not often that my daughter says “way to go mom”. Yahoo!

    • davidgoad Says:

      Handled beautifully Annette!! Parents at their kids’ sporting events is a whole special category of its own. I remember when the umpire cleared all of our parents off the bleachers during a little league game because they wouldn’t stop screaming at him. Us kids just wanted to play ball 🙂

  2. Victor Says:

    Everything is just not funny. Thank you for that piece as it was quite enlightening. Another aspect of that story occurred when I thought I was talking to someone who I thought knew how competent they were and I was joking. But alas, I have found that one cannot even joke about a thing like a person’s performance even when you know them. Because no one really is quite that confident that you can take it for granted.

  3. davidpj Says:

    Nice post David – it’s true that talking about a person’s performance can very quickly get them off side. I can think of a few examples where I’ve tried to handle situations where someone’s doing a procedure wrong, and the tips you’ve described are an explicit way of saying the things I’ve half realised! It’s similar to any form of communication, I think; keeping the talk about the issue, not the person, is going to make it more productive and less negative.


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