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What to say when a workmate blows it

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in Workplace Communication

You know them well: the co-worker who spends way too much time talking on the phone, and the colleague who projects boredom in staff meetings.

How can you possibly tell these people that they’re hurting themselves professionally … without sounding like you’re launching a personal attack? Should you even try?

Actually, you can and you should, says consultant Peter McLaughlin, coauthor of Mentally Tough: The Principles of Winning at Sports Applied to Winning in Business (M. Evans and Company).

Unfortunately, most people aren’t good at giving positive or negative feedback.

“But feedback conversations are essential,” says McLaughlin. “They force you to rise out of the swampland to a higher level of productivity.”

Rather than thinking of feedback as a personal attack, McLaughlin says, think of it as a healthy dialogue that can make the work environment better for everyone.

Your step-by-step guide for giving feedback:

1. Ask permission. Say: “May I give you some feedback?” or “I have a couple ideas about how you ___. Can I share them with you?” If the person says “No,” back off.

Set a tone of energy and optimism by assuming an attitude of candor and sensitivity.

2. Focus on specific situations and behavior. Talk about how your co-worker’s decisions affect other people, and how his or her actions affect business results.

Example: “When you yawn and doodle in meetings, it’s distracting to me and perhaps others. Besides, we’re missing out on hearing your ideas. The group would benefit so much more if you were engaged and alert during the meetings, rather than doodling.”

3. Remember that it’s a dialogue. Ask questions and listen attentively to answers. Offer your colleague suggestions and support.

Example: “What I’m hearing is that you’re a visual person, and doodling helps you envision what people are saying. That would come in handy during our next brainstorming session. We should have you at the whiteboard!”

 4. Show that you’re excited about the positive changes a co-worker can make. Some co-workers may become defensive, but most will leave a well-handled feedback session feeling fired up, not beaten up.

So, speak up and keep in mind what Jack Welch wrote in his book, Winning: “The worst harm you can do is not to be candid with someone else.”


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