My Direct Report is Commonly on the Defensive
Have you experienced that one direct report that seems to take it personally when you direct, correct, or instruct? He/she seems to be on the defensive when you are leading. You may have even tried a different approach. Nothing works. Instead of trying on a different behavior, maybe it is time for a shift in mindset and approach. Take a mindset of, “How am I contributing to this?”
First of all, let me re-assure you of your authority and position. You are boss. At any time, you can chalk this up to insubordination and terminate the contract. However, knowing you are reading this, I suspect you want to adjust your approach to move this direct report in a direction that helps you and the organization.
To move forward and improve the relationship and the direct report’s motivation requires a shift in mindset. Before addressing the employee, ask yourself these three questions:
What assumptions am I voicing or about to voice?
Does my approach feel like an attack on his/her character?
How would I like to be approached on this issue?
So, let’s more closely look at each of these:
- My Assumptions: This is a difficult communication shift. Often, we mix unarguable facts with assumptions and judgments. Example: “It looks like your time management bit you and the pressure to get this report finished led to mistakes.” The assumption is poor time management. The fact is “mistakes”. Address only the facts. “Hey. We need to discuss this report. I found a few errors.” Nothing puts a person on the defensive faster than our spoken assumptions, judgments, and perceptions. Leave them out of your initial communication and speak to the facts. You may follow up later by asking if they are open to an opinion of what might have led to the facts.
- Separating Their Character from the Behavior: As much as we hate to dance around it, the ego is always involved. There are very few front-line direct reports who have polished emotional intelligence therefore have trouble separating their ego from their work. Constructive criticism, correction, direction, instruction all touch the character button. Our task as a leader is to help them separate these. This can be accomplished by…
- First honor the effort and intent by the direct report, then point out the correction needed. Follow up with a positive about who they are and how it shows up in their work.
- Regularly point out positives in their work. Catch them doing something good and voice it.
- Sometimes…we just have address it directly. “Hey, I need to redirect you on something. I need you to know that I am not attacking you personally. I just want to address the work itself.”
- The Golden Rule: If my boss were approaching me on an issue like this…how would I want to be addressed? Keep in mind that you are in your leadership role partially because you have been able to handle correction, etc. You may have to reach into a different arena in your life to find where you would be triggered by criticism. From that place, ask yourself, “How would I like him to address me differently?” Then, apply this to your direct report.
All in all, this approach takes little effort and possibly 30 seconds of extra time and communication. The key is a shift in mindset and approach. This shift can pay huge dividends in moving your direct report forward without as much resistance as before.
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