I get asked a bunch of questions about… you know… stuff. And in the early morning hours I enjoy responding (hopefully) thoughtfully and thoroughly. A couple members of my team suggested I start sharing my advice. Previous AMA’s are here. So, without further ado, please enjoy this installment of Ask MilEs Anything:
A reader asked me: “How do you suggest to a coworker that he needs to tone it down a bit?”
You aren’t alone. A study done by Harris Interactive found that annoying coworkers are one of the top stressors for Americans in the workforce. But there may be a bit more to consider.
To start, I have a series of questions for you: how do you know you’re right? Is there a company bar? How do you know they are over the top? Is it just your own personal taste, or are you in a position of authority where you do need to tell him this?
Before you start down the path of correcting someone else, those are all the questions you need to answer for yourself.
If you do know that you’re right, you should make sure, first of all, that you’re already modeling the correct behavior. As a leader, the rest of your team looks to you as an example. If you’re not currently walking the talk, then make sure that for a few weeks you’re modeling the exact behavior you want to see before you have a conversation with this person.
Then do it privately.
Leaders praise publicly, specifically, and regularly. We let others know someone is doing well by explaining very specifically HOW they’re doing well. It gives credibility to the praise.
When we have to coach someone, we do it privately. We bring them aside so we don’t shame them and we outline very clearly what we expect of them and why it’s different from what they’re doing now. It’s very likely this person has been doing this for a very long time in their own personality. There are habits that are deeply, deeply developed and it likely will not be easy for this person to change their behavior. They are going to need your support and encouragement.
Have ongoing micro-trophies where you reward them for success.
You begin to build a bridge between behavior and the reward center in your brain. Whether you’ve gotten a trophy, a gold star, a holy card, or a badge in Mario or the Girl Scouts. They all do the same thing: trigger the dopamine spikes in the brain. For all of you non-science nerds – that’s a good thing.
And so, just to recap:
1. Make sure you’re right. How do you know that they need to tone it down? Or that they may go too far? Make sure not only that you know exactly what that means, but you also know what “just right” looks like.
2. Privately and specifically outline what the standard operating procedure is. You need to be able to clearly articulate all the parts of number one.
2a. Make sure they’re capable of doing it. If not, they may need to go find a place where that behavior is more accepted. Maybe they can’t change.
3. When they begin to change, make note of it. Reward them even if it’s just verbally. Notice. Listen. Watch. Pay attention to those changes and make sure that they know that you know that they’re making the effort to improve the way you want them to improve.
I could give you a much more thorough coaching session if I had more context to whatever it is you that you’re talking about. But essentially, that up there, is a roadmap to having uncomfortable, but necessary conversations with employees or coworkers.
Oh, and last but not least, calling them a rotten-no-good-cotton-headed-ninny-muggins should be your last resort. Them are fightin’ words.