It has come to my attentions that you’ve been screwing up a lot lately. You keep missing deadlines – what’s with that? And btw, the quality of your work is pathetic. What are you going to do to fix it? First thing tomorrow, my office.
Yes, the above message is an over-the-top example of terrible workplace communication. Hopefully, no boss would send an email that is quite that awful to an employee! But the truth is, I have seen some very thoughtless communications in the workplace that are not worlds away from my tongue-in-cheek example.
Fortunately, many businesses are aware when there is a problem with their manager-to-employee communications. I even get requests to do workshops that focus on helping managers structure comments/feedback to staff. When I do, I make a point of letting them know it’s not just about the structure of the feedback, or even about the use of correct grammar (although both are important); it’s also about tone. Giving feedback is an important part of workplace communication. But when it is thoughtlessly worded, it has far-reaching, stinging implications. None of us responds positively to being attacked.
The tone of your language is essential to effective workplace communication.
At this time of year, when many companies are doing performance assessments and year-end reviews, it’s particularly important to pay attention (not “attentions”!) to the way feedback is delivered. Words do indeed have the power to offend, as I wrote in an earlier post, Profanity And The Power Of Language: When Words Offend. So it seems timely to talk about some of the pitfalls of offering feedback in the workplace.
The Language Lab’s Four Worst Feedback Sins
-Using negative language. For example, saying, “You seem to be taking a long time with your report.” A more positive way to communicate this would be as follows: “When can I expect your report?”
-Choosing imprecise words to convey a message. For example: “As I told you before, there are problems with your deliverables, and I think it is because your team isn’t pulling their weight.” What, specifically are the problems? In what way is the team not “pulling their weight?” A more precise message would read like this: “I see your team is still having difficulty meeting deadlines. I’m concerned they are not working to full capacity.”
-Not considering the other person’s feelings. (It helps to ask yourself if you would like to receive the kind of feedback you are giving someone else.)
-Using offensive language, such as telling someone they are “screwing up.”
So how could John’s boss communicate his displeasure more effectively? How about something like this:
I’d like to schedule a meeting with you to clarify my expectations re: deadlines. I’d also like to make sure you have the support you need to accomplish your assignments. Are you available to meet in the morning? Please let me know.
Speaking of feedback, I’d really enjoy hearing your thoughts on workplace communication. What’s the worst (or best) feedback you’ve ever experienced at work? Email me at The Language Lab. (Please and thanks, of course.)