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I have a report who is simply no good. He is able to turn the easiest task into a huge disaster. He's simply not a person for this job.

But that's not the topic I would like to discuss here.

I try to limit my feedback for him to our 1:1 conversations, but given that he often presents his - completely false - solutions to me and other people at the same time and the fact that we work in an open space and it's difficult to book a room for every negative feedback, it's sometimes difficult for me not to express with the tone of my voice that I'm irritated. I'm doing my best, but I know it can be heard by other people (his colleagues) at times and it makes me ashamed of myself.

I'm always constructive, never offensive of course. But still, it's negative feedback (my pointing to his mistakes and asking for corrections).

How should I manage that?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – user44108 May 2 at 8:51

11 Answers 11

31

Try starting here:

given that he often presents his - completely false - solutions to me and other people at the same time

Limit number of presentations. Have an agreement that you must always approve this person's presentations before they are released in public. Suggest that to your and person's managers as well. This will allow you to

  • give initial guidance instead of negative feedback post-factum
  • see exactly when things go wrong
  • cancel presentations that are not ready and will waste everybody's time

This will also move your interactions from "negative feedback" to "working together" type of work. I would expect that you will not spend much more time with report than you do now.

Basically, I would advise you to temporally re-organize your interactions. Instead of "after," you will be ahead of bad performance, possibly correcting it.

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    Your points are valid, but they won't work in this case. For example, presentations are checked and ready, but then he presents something that has not been discussed and that is wrong. – openspaced Apr 30 at 20:03
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    @openspaced uh that is major issue, you should add it to the question. Have you brought that up? – aaaaa says reinstate Monica Apr 30 at 20:30
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    @openspaced That is the sort of clear issue you should record and document ready for a performance improvement plan and possible firing if performance does not improve. – Patricia Shanahan Apr 30 at 21:48
  • Regarding tone of voice, would it help to add something about providing feedback via e-mail or IM, when appropriate? – Todd Wilcox May 1 at 14:40
  • @ToddWilcox my answer more about how to avoid giving feedback and instead do "feed-forward". In practice, I do following: take notes during meetings, send in an email, meet later to discuss. – aaaaa says reinstate Monica May 1 at 15:57
5

Since you say:

He's simply not a person for this job.

I would suggest, you convey any negative feedback to him via email. This way you have his issues documented. If he replies to your emails further explaining his terrible ideas, all the better.

Then after sufficient time, you can submit this info to the higher-ups to get placed on a "Performance Improvement Plan" to correct his issues, or in an extreme event, separate him from the company.

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    The PIPs are simply there for a paper trail... this answer shows this very clearly; they don't help anyone improve anything. Thinking PIPs work is as sound as trusting HR, generally speaking... – code_dredd Apr 30 at 22:55
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    code_dredd, I know not to trust HR, and I know PIPs are typically a tool to remove a person. Based on the comment from the OP that I quoted, i got the idea that maybe the person in question should no longer be there. – jesse May 1 at 12:28
  • @jesse The person in question should no longer be there, unless he can improve drastically and rapidly (unlikely, based on the question, but you never know). It's unfair to everybody else to keep a hopeless incompetent on the payroll, and it's no kindness to him. Give him a fair chance to redeem himself and all the help he needs, but if nothing changes, pull the plug. If he's a good person with a good attitude, that's very painful to do, but it's the right thing. – Ed Plunkett May 1 at 13:19
  • While I do think it makes sense to document performance issues and communicate them in writing as appropriate, I don't think it makes sense to use this as the only avenue for communication - it leaves too much room for the employee to claim misinterpretation, or enter into a written flame-war. IME it's best to communicate issues via multiple channels (ie have a verbal communication, then follow with an email written along the lines of "as we just discussed, ..." – dwizum May 1 at 13:32
3

If your intent is to shield this employee from your negative feedback then you need to work to reduce the amount of opportunities he gives you for doing so.

You can start by eliminating the conversations in the open space. The next time he approaches you in open space, kindly ask him to gather his thoughts/solutions/etc and send them to you in an email. This helps avoid any public negative feedback from yourself.

You should still take the time to respond to his email and point out what is incorrect and try to explain why it is incorrect.

If ultimately you feel that this person is not right for the job you should take whatever action is available to you ( being that they report to you ) to remove him from his current role.

2

You already know what you should do. You should use professional manners.

You should praise in public and criticize in private.

So find a spot in the break room, or a hallway, or some vacant office to have as private a conversation as possible. You can never go wrong by using good manners.

What to do about the guy requires more details, and is another discussion as you suggest.

  • "Praise in public and criticize in private" is the best rule, and is true for practically every profession. I've heard and seen this done in office environments, retail work, and even the military. Most importantly this actually answers OP's question- how do I give negative feedback gracefully? – Zorkolot May 2 at 18:43
1

How to give very negative feedback gracefully?

Short answer: Just don't.

I have a report who is simply no good. He is able to turn the easiest task into a huge disaster. He's simply not a person for this job.

This sounds like you have already given up hope. If you really think your report is simply no good, you should not have him in your team. You should tell your manager, that you cannot work with that person and that you don't think this person will improve, working in your team.

You might be stuck with him for a while so, and try to get the best performance possible out of him. Even then there is no point in giving him "very negative feedback". Focus on the biggest improvement points and give concrete guidance on how to improve.

1

If you have to give feedback (as in... they suggests a bad idea and you need to put the kibosh on it immediately), try a couple methods - first, the sandwich method. Sandwich your criticism in between a couple positive statements. It will soften the blow, embarrass them less, and lead to less friction when you correct them. This seems to be your biggest concern in asking your question.

Second, phrase things as 'I think...' or 'I feel...', especially negatives. It makes everything sound kinder and less aggressive, and puts the problem on you, so that the speaker doesn't get defensive, and it doesn't devolve into an awkward public chastisement or a shouting match.

Something like...

Hey, Steve, this project covers requires XYZ really well, and I like that it covers my own concerns of ABC too.

However, I think we had requirements for TUV, and it looks like this proposal doesn't cover those. We might have to rethink some of this.

[continue long list of criticisms.]

So yeah, overall it looks pretty good but I think we just need to rework [all the stuff you just said that possibly adds up to 90% of the proposal].

Additionally, it's best if you coach all criticisms as 'I think...', 'I feel...', etc. It:

A) Allows that you may be wrong. You're probably not, but humility and grace is never a bad thing.

B) Makes the recipient less likely to get defensive, and encourages you to word things non-aggressively. By starting with a statement about your feelings, you are predisposed to word it much more kindly. 'I feel that there are some issues with this.' is a natural way to say something. If you just say it as a blunt statement 'There are issues with this.', it will sound harsh, and put the speaker on the defensive.

0

Have you got any templates or examples that he can go from when you hand him a task? Say

"Please can you do this for me, previously it has been done like x, see this example"

Then if he turns it into a disaster the feedback can fairly be:

"Would you mind doing it the way that I showed you in the example?"

0

There are two main strategies I'd employ here. However, before you try any of them I'd suggest a couple of things:

  • "He's simply not a person for this job." - if this is truly the case then move to HR phase. If it's not then get it out of your head. You can't have this mindset while trying to help someone.
  • Focus on the big things, don't try and feed back on everything at once.

The first strategy I'd employ is to state clearly your reason for bringing these things up. Before you can have these difficult conversations you need to have mutual respect and mutual purpose. You need to respect each other as people and make your conversation about the topic, not about the people. Your opening sentence of your question makes me question this.

The second point, mutual purpose, is also important. What do you both want out of these feedback sessions? Presumably to help him become a great employee? Make that clear. Contrasting "I don't want to undermine you, I'm trying to help you succeed here." can go a long way.

The next strategy is to focus on the problem, not the effects. Let's say your report is constantly late. It's very easy to have conversations like:

Why were you late?

The bus was late

Ok, don't be late tomorrow

Sorry I'm late again, I lost my keys...

What you're doing here is addressing the issues not the cause. You're not interested in why he's late. You're making your expectation (in this case timeliness) clear.

I mention this because you mention he always has an answer and presents versions which are false. Again, don't focus on who didn't deliver or who didn't help who. Focus on the results you both want to achieve.

I'd highly recommend the book Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson. Pretty much all of my answer comes from ideas suggested there.

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You want to give him feedback, but since your speech says you've already made up your mind, what purpose would the feedback fulfill?

I have a report who is simply no good

If his behaviors were mistakes, he could be taught and improved upon. If he is just fundamentally horrible, he can't change himself.

He's simply not a person for this job.

You've passed judgement in a way that's contingent on him being a different person. He can't be a different person.

I'd be very careful to craft a success story for this employee. If you want any kind of positive resolution out of this, you can't expect him to "not be him" and you can't expect him to harm himself (by walking out of the job without a better one in place).

Focus on the behaviors, and re-frame your mental upsets. Make his problems "problems of his behaviors / actions" and stop identifying him as evil.

Behaviors can be changed, but there's no motivation on his part to change them if, in the end, you'll just see him as bad.

often presents his - completely false - solutions to me and other people at the same time

Ok, so you have half a behavior problem here; and, half a judgement of "the solution is wrong, because it came from him" (which is a logical fallacy, if you think about it; after all, even a person who knows nothing might accidentally come up with a good solution randomly).

it's sometimes difficult for me not to express with the tone of my voice that I'm irritated

Because you are irritated, and your way of viewing this problem is likely to increase your irritation. You are not letting him fail, nor are you letting him succeed; instead, you're taking on a role you're not supposed to be performing. You're attempting to protect the company from this person because you believe they are bad; and, you're attempting to protect this person by trying to isolate them and instruct them to be someone else.

Now that I've re-framed it in a way a 3rd party might look at it, you might notice that there's no win in this for you. Since you're working on a problem without a solution, as long as you believe the problem is the person, and you are unable to keep this person in solitary confinement (one-on-one meetings when he pitches his ideas) frustration levels will continue to rise until you change a few things.

  1. View the behavior as the problem, not the person.
  2. Teach the person how to develop an idea into a plan. If the idea is truly wrong, it is wrong due to a constraint of (time, money, or manpower). By having this person better evaluate their ideas, they will contribute ideas that come with less cost (and thus more benefit).
  3. Listen to their plans in a way that doesn't drive confusion. For example, have them write up a description of their idea in a word document. Read the document with an open mind, and reply with non-judemental questions focusing on (time, money, or manpower).

As you stop writing off his input as "false", he'll stop seeing you as a gatekeeper which is blocking (his perceived) progress. He may achieve something, or may achieve nothing; but, right now you seem to be:

  1. Always right in the evaluation of his ideas.
  2. Always constructive (your words, not mine)
  3. Never offensive (despite saying a person is "just bad", which offends many)

If taken to an extreme, you probably come off to this person as "always right, and always has to control (by dragging me off to a corner to tell me how I'm always wrong)"

My point in the above was not to tell you your business, but to enable you to see that he's put you in a position of power.

You are capable of changing his views, and getting good work out of him; because, you are capable of changing your mind and your approach.

or

You can see him as fundamentally flawed, and guess what, you can't change that.

-1

it's difficult to book a room for every negative feedback

Have you tried booking a room just once? It couldn't be completely impossible to do, I guess.

My point is that just one meeting should be enough. It sounds as if you want to give him feedback on his overall behaviour, not separately on every single point that he makes.

  • I'm not the downvoter but I suspect it's on -1 because it's more of a comment than a rounded answer – Liath May 1 at 11:55
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    @Liath thank you, I was about to wonder aloud. Actually I think it is a rounded answer: OP's problem lies explicitly in the tackling of a public situation, this is the obvious thing that needs to be changed. So, make it private. Also, tell the person in question what you told us, instead of feedback on each one of his mistakes; again, that's where the OP's real problem is! – Helen - down with PCorrectness May 1 at 12:04
-1

In my, albeit somewhat limited, experience of when I used to tutor people I've come to realize that it's not the other person who's at fault when they don't understand how to do something but it's the system that has failed them.

Allow me to explain.

Nobody ever showed them how to do it right

The education of today is following an archaic format which doesn't suit everyone. We all learn differently and at different speeds.

Everybody dismissed them instead of taking the time to correct them

A ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of medicine (or something like that). We're often quick to dismiss someone when they do something that we consider to be wrong. We move on and hope that by osmosis the person will realize their mistake and learn from it. Good, constructive, feedback is imperative. Without feedback the person can't know that their work doesn't meet expectations.

Sitting down with someone and very calmly going over an example and asking constructive questions that push the other person to think for themselves is important. It helps to find problem areas and pushes the person to think through what, on the surface, may look like a simple decision but, in actuality, needs to be thought through. Ask sub-questions that lead the person to discovering the error of their conclusions.

The above technique has, in my own personal experience, proven to be very effective when working as a tutor. It's easy to assume that everyone knows everything that you might know, but more often than not that's not the case. In a lot of cases, by just simply asking "why" a few times you can find the root cause of their misconception.

Instead of just saying

He's simply not a person for this job.

try saying: This person needs some help in order to be more productive.

Instead of blaming the person for his shortcomings take responsibility of your own position (you mentioned he reports to you) and realize its a failure on your part to mentor him properly. I know this is a hard pill to swallow but it's the truth - you can't change others but you can change yourself and how you approach things.

Education is a difficult subject, and I'm by no means an expert, but one of the things that really helped me when I was tutoring (and it might help you) was trying to find some common ground that you can use to provide analogies when mentoring (assuming you can draw parallels between the two things). Apart from that the other key skill is patience, lots of patience. We all learn differently and at different speed.

One more thing, it's ok to be annoyed, just take a deep breath and calm down, if you find that you're being annoyed too much take a break to collect yourself and then resume.

I hope this helps.

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