Feel the Fear of Conflict and Give Constructive Feedback Anyway in Business and at Work


I’ve experienced this scenario too many times in my HR career:

(Phone rings.)

Supervisor:  “Hi Deb, I’d like to fire (Insert Name) for violating several handbook policies.”

Me:  “Okay. I’d like to see the prior counseling memos for Insert Name, please. How long have they worked for you?”

Supervisor: “Oh, there are no counseling memos for Insert Name. They’ve worked for me for over a year.”

Me: “Okay. Then I’d like to see the emails that you and Insert Name sent to each other summarizing the counseling conversations for violating the handbook policies, as well as your notes from the conversations.”

Supervisor: “Oh, there are no emails or notes.  When I can I fire Insert Name?”

Me:  (Head palm). “So there’s no documentation? Have you given Insert Name feedback each time they’ve violated a handbook policy?”

Supervisor:  “No, I hate conflict, so I’ve never given them feedback on violating handbook policies. Can’t we just tell Insert Name that it’s not working out and fire them?”

Me: (Head palm).

The antidote for the above scenario:

  • Give your team members 30 minutes of feedback every 30 days – what’s working well, what needs to be improved immediately, focusing on observable data (e.g. Key Performance Indicators supporting the achievement of your organization’s goals, complying with specific handbook policies, etc.). Ask each team member to send you an email summarizing the monthly feedback conversation, to ensure comprehension and accountability.
  • If you give 30 minutes of feedback every 30 days, you’re giving your team members the information they need to be successful, so you don’t end up having the above conversation with me and/or your HR Leader – which will also support your accountability as the supervisor.
  • Lean into the defensive flak you may get for giving the “needs-improvement” feedback, and don’t take it personally / be defensive in return. If your feedback is objective and data-driven, you’re doing your team members a favor by giving them the information they need to be successful.  When you tell your team members you’re giving them feedback to support their success, you invariably have them at hello. Your job as a supervisor is to create mutual respect to support the achievement of team work goals – not win a popularity contest.
  • Make the feedback more meaningful by clearly outlining the needs on all sides – yours, the team member’s and that of the organization, to support the success of everyone involved in the feedback conversation.
  • If you as the supervisor implement consistently the above steps for all of your team members, and Insert Name still doesn’t improve their performance – then you won’t need to fire them, because they will have succeeded in terminating themselves.

How will you feel the fear of conflict and lean in to give constructive feedback anyway to support the success of all in business and at work?

Performance target

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