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I work in the software development industry and this is the first formal job of this person. They have particular personal reasons to have bad writing and speaking skills, mainly due to bad education access during a huge part of their life.

While the communication of this person is not bad at all (they can ask questions, ask for feedback, give feedback, complete tasks), it is clear that the lack of a more complex vocabulary and especially the amount of incorrectly written words in their messages are seriously hurting their ability to improve as a professional.

Particularly I find it a bit unprofessional to bring up this topic during the annual performance review (this person is not below the expectations of the position), but I truly believe that improving on those skills will bring much more value than studying software development and technology for example. By better studying the language I'm sure this person will be able to have a much better understanding of what they need to do and how to better express themselves during necessary situations.

This feedback was brought up by me but we have received feedback from other members of the team as well, so it is not something that concerns only me.

So the question is: is it plausible to include this topic in this person's performance review? And if so, should I also provide educations resources to help this person to improve?

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    Why do you think it would be unprofessional to bring up something which is affecting someone's professional development? Feb 23, 2023 at 12:13
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    @PhilipKendall Because this is a very delicate topic in my opinion. This person in particular has a very difficulty background on their personal life and bringing up this feedback can hurt both their own feelings and their relationship with the team.
    – Bonifacio
    Feb 23, 2023 at 12:17
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    To elaborate on what Joe Strazzere says, what's in a performance review shouldn't be a surprise to the recipient, it should be a summary/conclusion/catch-up of feedback and conversations you've already had during the year. That way people can act on it sooner and get feedback quicker. If there's an opportunity to do it before their performance review, I would take it. Feb 23, 2023 at 12:38
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    @mattfreake Man, I wish some of my previous managers felt that way. One in particular liked to blindside me in general. One time he set a review for 15 minutes into the future, just sat in the room for 30 minutes, and then faulted me for not showing up. I didn't even know about the invite until he stopped by my desk afterward to tell me that I missed it.
    – user83977
    Feb 23, 2023 at 16:52
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    Frankly, I would be a bit annoyed if I got a performance review early in my career that didn't discuss areas with room for improvement. How do you expect your reports to grow as employees if you don't give them feedback about what they could be doing better? Providing that insight shows that you care about your workers' success, which declining to provide it shows that you don't.
    – A. R.
    Feb 24, 2023 at 19:17

8 Answers 8

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That's what a performance review (or any feedback meeting) is for. Keep the tone positive, praise strengths, but also communicate weaknesses.

Don't speculate, mention background or personal life. State the facts and elaborate why you think this holds them back. If you can, offer them help or a way to move forward.

Soften the blow by ending the meeting with honest praise.

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    I think it is important to offer some constructive way to improve. If the company is big enough to have a subscription to training product like Percipio maybe there is a specific class that the manager could recommend. Ideally, the company would pay for a class if the employee was willing. There may be free resources that the manager could find and suggest though.
    – ColleenV
    Feb 23, 2023 at 13:05
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    You could also soften the impact by phrasing it as a positive instead of a negative, i.e. "You're clever and often have great suggestions, so I'd like to get you into a program to help you hone your abilities as a communicator" as opposed to "you have problems communicating, so we need to address that issue."
    – Aos Sidhe
    Feb 23, 2023 at 21:05
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    I would suggest something like, "As you know, your English could be quite a bit better. It isn't affecting your work currently - you are doing really well. But it would be an issue if you were seeking a promotion." Feb 23, 2023 at 22:44
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    @AosSidhe: Personally, if I were on the receiving end of your formulation, I'd find it very confusing.
    – ruakh
    Feb 24, 2023 at 4:54
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    @JeremyCrowhurst "It isn't affecting your work currently". It is, because OP says that "we have received feedback from other members of the team as well, so it is not something that concerns only me"'.
    – OldPadawan
    Feb 24, 2023 at 8:37
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I have been the recipient of such feedback, and I really appreciated it.

I am French, I was born in France, raised in France, and worked in France for close to a decade in an "English-speaking company" before moving abroad. I was good at English... in writing. Orally, I was pretty good for a French, but that's a low bar I'm afraid.

One of the first negative pieces of feedback I received in Amsterdam, after six months to a year there, was that my English -- in particular my accent -- was sometimes making it difficult to understand me.

For the second year, we did nothing, I tried to pay more attention and being in contact with better English speakers I improved a bit. But at the end of the second year, the same feedback came again: once again, a number of my coworkers found it difficult to understand me. And because I had been aware of it, I knew it to be the case: I was regularly asked to repeat myself, or explain what I meant.

And thus my manager, who had gotten in touch with HR, suggested that they had a communication coach they regularly worked with, and that if I was willing I could be part of the next group training. I was so glad to be offered a solution.

I did the group training, the coach rightfully identified that I had accent issues, and thus after the group training I followed with a serie of personal coaching sessions focused on correcting my particular issue. The feedback the next year was positive, everyone thought I had been improving, and from the next year after that on this was never mentioned again.

Thus, as a report, I can assure you that I was grateful to my manager and colleagues for raising the issue and helping me overcome it -- if only by pointing me in the right direction.

In terms of procedure:

  1. The issue was raised, but it was not a "criticism", nor were any allusion as to why it could be the case made. It was noted SBI1 style: when I talked to my colleagues, I made mistakes in pronunciation that made it difficult for my colleagues to understand me, slowing down the conversation as they asked me to repeat/clarify.
  2. I was not forced to do any training/coaching. Instead, my manager mentioned they knew a good coach, and could put me in touch. It was left up to me whether to accept, or to prefer another way of improving, or to favor improving in other areas.

I would recommend such a procedure: highlighting the problem professionally, and working with your employee towards a solution.

1 SBI: Situation Behavior Impact. Keep to the facts, don't ascribe intent or feelings.

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is it plausible to include this topic in this person's performance review?

Yes. It's a professional matter, there's nothing personal for you. If the topic is affecting the professional development growth of the person, then it's professional to include it in the Annual Performance Review. It's intended to do more good than harm.

In a APR, there are topics that you discuss. Each side can clarify, agree or disagree. But these are points you explain, and, most of the time, you have a scale of performance (much more than expected / more than expected / as expected / less than expected / much less than expected was the grid we had). Use it to point out what needs improvment, and the required level.

When explaining the rating, give a chance to the person to clarify, if they don't agree. Once it's done, explain the pros and cons. Why it's negatively impacting their performance and what can be done. Be as neutral as can be, give facts/numbers, there's nothing personal in doing this.

should I also provide educations resources to help this person to improve?

Yes. Offer them a way to improve by following courses. Many companies offer courses for stress management, communication, public speeches... Doing that, show them the positive of the action: they'll improve in every aspect of (in your case) communication, which is vital nowadays. And it helps end the APR on a positive note.

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You did not mention culture. Culture plays a big role and how you would communicate it. Maybe you mention that you know that it is hard for them, and maybe you stick to facts like in jwsc's answer.

But feedback is for highlighting how a person can improve. I’d personally advise not calling it mistake or weakness, but call it an area of improvement or some such. Let them know they did good, and if they want to grow and improve, that's a field that would benefit them. Think beforehand about any help you can offer if wanted. Maybe your company pays for courses or something like that.

Good companies have a company culture of growth, and part of that is being able to respectfully talk about things like that.

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There are already several, good answers to this, but I feel there are some aspects that still need mentioning.

Being autistic myself, I have been through something like this, and I could have used some kind and caring colleagues; it can be difficult to get to the point where you accept that, 'Yes, I'm different and sometimes need help with certain things'.

Firstly, I don't agree that this should be part of a formal review, at least initially. It is likely to be a sensitive issue, and having this problem highlighted in a paper trail may not be good for them; you are clearly a kind person who cares about your employees, but if you move to another position, the next manager may be completely different.

Next, I don't think the ordinary kind of corporate training is much use in this situation - it is too often superficial and makes assumptions that are perhaps unlikely to fit the needs of this person. From what you describe, there might be an underlying problem that they struggle with - dyslexia springs to mind - and which can be overcome to some extent.

In your situation, I would first seek to educate myself, perhaps talk to people with professional insight to help me approach the problem in the right way. And when you feel ready, talk to them off the record about things, at least in the beginning; be kind, understanding and caring, and make it clear that you believe in their abilities and want them to achieve the best they can. And be patient - it can take time to accept that you have a problem.

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Is there an "elephant in the room"

It needs to be asked, but ... is there an elephant in the room that you've not mentioned?

I may be way off the mark, but you don't include much in the way of details or context. Are we talking about someone who speaks English as a second language, or someone from a protected group such as a minority community that has its own dialect or particular way of speaking that's associated with their culture or sub-culture?

Or is this more a case of a person from a blue collar background struggling in a professional environment (Think My Fair Lady)?

If it's either of the former, then raising it could be seen as problematic, and it could reflect poorly upon you for raising it. It's something best handled by the appropriate department if it's causing actual business problems. And delicately in all other cases.

If it's the latter, then it's probably something that should be handled off the record and not linked to things such as targets or professional training. Offer general guidance or mentoring, and insert help in this area into that, don't make it a full on thing by itself.

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  • It's more like a case of a person coming from a blue collar background struggling ina professional environment and I agree 100% with you that this is exactly why this situation si a bit problematic. Thank you for your answer and gathering the hints that were not explicit in my question
    – Bonifacio
    Feb 27, 2023 at 12:43
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The question, in my view, is what a solution to the problem would look like.

Language skills take many years to develop and adjust, and an adult who has skills poor enough to be remarkable to others, is usually already aware of the fact.

If both writing and speech are affected, I would be inclined to regard the person as having a disability that is unlikely to improve. You don't need to go to school to learn to talk, unless you're in a family environment where there are deficits spanning the generations.

I don't think any good could come of pointing it out in a performance meeting, any more so than pointing out that a lame person "could do better professionally" if they managed to walk better.

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    Exactly. I would think the person being reviewed is apt to suspect the OP is creating a paper trail to fire them down the line. Not going to accomplish anything except for alienating them. Feb 23, 2023 at 23:00
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    @NathanHughes, yes I think there would have to be a huge trust for the manager, on par with regarding them as an older brother or father or friend-group leader, and even then it would be more appropriate to provide corrective guidance and encouragement verbally as problems are encountered, rather than addressing it once a year in a performance review. For the average manager, there are only mines in this area.
    – Steve
    Feb 24, 2023 at 11:00
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Right or wrong, most people will take anything brought up during their official annual performance review as something that affected their review and, potentially, their pay raise.

This seems like a great opportunity for you to become a mentor. You have a young person in a technical field in their first professional job. Unless he's extremely talented, he will benefit from mentoring on technical aspects of the job alone. The same goes for other soft skills needed to be successful in the professional world.

All of these things, including the communications issues, can be brought up during weekly informal mentoring sessions

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