I am that person. You are that person.
I often get called to help deal with “that person”. You know who I mean. The employee who's too valuable to terminate, but they have annoying patterns of behavior that cause drama and take up valuable time. Now, for some reason, it has reached the crisis point. And they have become “that person”.
Recently I was working with a manager on giving feedback to “that person”. I listened to the manager and her supervisor (who now was at the end of his rope as well) share how this situation has been building for a few years. How the employee’s constant striving to be noticed is actually holding him back professionally and socially within the team. How his behavior has yet again escalated and peers are starting to gripe about feeling uncomfortable and distracted. And how drained and tired the manager is in being forced to deal with a situation where she doesn’t see a performance problem, she just wishes the employee could “behave appropriately” so everyone could “get the work done”.
Then she said the phrase that cuts right to the root of the problem. “I don't want this to be uncomfortable”.
What she is really saying is, “I’ve been this person. It feels yucky. I don’t want to be the one creating yuck. Because that feels yucky to me”.
The honest truth is, we’ve all been in this position. When we have a pattern or behavior that makes others uncomfortable, it is distracting and unbeknownst to us, is actually holding us back. And because we all can relate to this experience, we don’t particularly want to create situations where we are bringing these feelings up. Because it feels yucky. So we do one of three things:
- Ignore the behaviors (and sometimes the person) and hope they get the hint.
- Make jokes about it or casually drop hints and hope they pick up on it.
- Wait until it is to the breaking point and lash out publically with more anger and energy than is warranted.
Why? Because we are human. Because we care about people. And because we want to avoid feeling yucky and inflicting yuck on others. But avoiding the yucky feeling actually causes more yucky feelings, drama and generally no real change or resolution.
Here’s the truth. Most of us don’t like to give hard feedback because we project how we believe we would feel onto the other person.
Can you remember a time when you got some really hard but life changing feedback? How did you feel initially? I bet you felt kind of yucky. Maybe caught unaware?
But how long did that yucky feeling last? And what did you learn? What did you see that you didn’t see before? And what opportunity was created through this new awareness? What is different for you now?
Through years of this work, I’ve learned that most people don’t want to be “that person”. I’ve also learned that when there are persistent behaviors that hold people back, it is generally because they never had anyone who was willing to step up and tell them frankly, but empathetically, what behaviors aren’t appropriate. Someone who will not judge them while they feel the “yuck” and support them as they make changes.
As long as we are living, breathing and interacting with other humans, we are on a growth trajectory meaning we are always at risk of being “that person”. Every promotion, every new relationship, every new project and every new team presents us with opportunities to be that person.
As leaders, managers, supervisors, parents, partners and friends, we need to become more okay with giving and receiving feedback.
One: It isn’t your job to manage both sides of the feedback relationship. If you are honest, empathetic, direct and clear with feedback and the other person feels some discomfort, that’s okay. You don’t have to make them feel better. In fact, growth and change are born out of discomfort. When you try to set things up so no one (you or the other person) feels any discomfort, you are actually enabling the problem to continue and you are holding the person back.
Two: Create Connection. Remember a time when you were a child, or you were with a child, preparing to cross the street. The child, maybe about age four or five, started to step off the curb while a car was coming. You jerked their hand quickly and firmly and said, “Stop!”
To allow them to continue and hope they’d get the hint when the car hit them would have been irresponsible. It is the same when staff is behaving in ways that are inappropriate. Don’t hope they get the hint. Deal with it immediately and frankly.
Three: Give feedback privately. Enough said.
Four: Be empathetic and vulnerable. Incorporate a story about how you learned a lesson through feedback. This creates connection.
Five: Seek understanding through clarity. Ask them to summarize what they heard you say. Emphasize their value to the organizations. And clarify anything that was heard incorrectly.
Six: Grace is in the space. Give them time to reflect and process. Don’t ask “Are we okay?” immediately after giving feedback. That is your desire to get rid of the yuck. Send an email with a synopsis of the feedback, the action steps to change and a reinforcement of the positive. Let them know when you will check back in (within a day or two) and be sure to do so!
Seven: Notice! Notice when they are trying to make change. Give subtle, frequent, positive feedback.
The more you give feedback, the more comfortable you’ll get with it. Giving feedback frequently and early is the only way to take the drama, stress and just plain yuck out of it. You will probably even get to the point where people look forward to your feedback because it means they are seen, heard, valued and moving forward!
P.S. Want to learn more about giving and receiving feedback? Check out the upcoming workshop below!
Holding Positive Space in Challenging Dialogue