Behavior-based language primer for managers: Examples of how to improve employee corrective feedback and how to get rid of damaging adverbs
An important skill for any manager is to use behavior-based language. This is the latest in a series of primers that help managers modify their language so that they can better focus on an employee’s performance, rather than make the mistake of (mis)characterizing the employee’s value through generalized language or value judgments.
An important step in improving your behavior-based language skills is to reduce the use of adverbs, as they are merely shortcuts that undermine your ability to describe and improve an employee’s performance. In my previous post, I described the process of removing adverbs to improve behavior-based language using examples of positive feedback to an employee. In today’s post, I do the same for corrective feedback.
The intent for corrective feedback is to have the employee stop doing one thing, and start doing another. Using adverbs in your corrective feedback creates a haze over this process, and will likely confuse the employee receiving the feedback. Here are some examples of things managers tend to say that are decisively not behavior-based (and therefore should not be said):
You really let me down.
You’re totally not focused on the right things.
You’re very indecisive.
You make way too many errors.
You’re always late.
The Manager by Design blog explores the core skills that managers need to be good at being managers. A key skill is the ongoing use of behavior-based language. In previous posts, I discussed the need to avoid making generalizations and stop making value-judgments. I’ve also provided the markers for what good behavior-based language looks like. In today’s post, I provide another marker of behavior-based language: Refraining from using adverbs and superlatives.
Step #1: Remove adverbs when describing or discussing your employee’s performance
If you use the common words “very”, “really,” “totally” or “completely” to describe your employee’s performance, you are using adverbs. Adverbs such as these have no place in using behavior-based language and they should be removed. Removing the adverb from the sentence will elevate the objectivity of the statement without sacrificing the content:
|With Adverb||Without Adverb|
|Joe was very effective at closing the sale.||Joe was effective at closing the sale.|
|Mark totally addresses customer needs.||Mark addresses customer needs.|
|Janet really works at finding and resolving bugs.||Janet works at finding and resolving bugs.|
|Rene completely finished her work items.||Rene finished her work items.|