The Art of Providing Feedback: Banish the use of “always”
Here’s a tip for managers: Banish the word “always” from your vocabulary.
The Manager by Design blog frequently writes about how to give performance feedback. Performance feedback is an important skill for any manager, as it is one of the quickest ways to improve performance of individuals on your team.
One particularly useless word in the art of performance feedback is the word “always.” Here are some examples of where a manager mistakenly uses “always” in performance feedback:
You’re always late
You always make bad decisions
You always come up short
These are examples of bad performance feedback, since they are not behavior-based, but the word that makes these examples particularly bad is the word “always.” That’s because “always” implies that the employee’s performance is eternal and permanent. And that undermines the whole point of performance feedback, which is to change the way your employees are performing, and have them do something better instead.
Let’s start by removing the word always from the three examples above:
You made a bad decision
You came up short
OK, these are still pretty bad, but at least this feedback didn’t put an eternal and permanent brand on the employee as “always late,” “always bad at making decisions,” and “always underperforming.” At least without the word “always”, the feedback is isolated to the once incident, making it possible for the feedback to be more specific and immediate.
Removing the word “always” allows you to focus on the particular event you are giving feedback on, and not make a generalization about the person’s permanent character.
Removing the word “always” allows you to support the thesis about “late” “bad decisions” and “coming up short” with more details. By discussing the details, you at least have entry to discussion as to why this happened, and identify the forces that went into the performance.
Removing the word “always” implies that this bad event can be turned around and the next time the performance can be improved.
When you use the word “always” in a feedback conversation, it implies that there is a permanence to the employee behavior the manager is ostensibly trying to correct. “Always” makes the performance feedback conversation useless, because instead of trying to get the employee to do something differently next time (be on time, make a good decision, meet the goal), it instead sounds like a relegation or banishment to permanent underperformance that the employee can never get out of.
That’s not good for either the manager or the employee, unless you want a chronically underperforming team that hates the manager.
Finally, by saying someone is “always late” or “always makes poor decisions”, it is inherently incorrect. If that employee can find one time he was on time, or one time she made a correct decision, then the manager is proven wrong. Not a good move if you want to be able to lead a team.
So to all of the managers out there – banish the word “always” from your vocabulary.
Have you ever been told that you “always” do something? What was that like?