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One of the latest articles on LinkedIn features a thought leader proposing that, and I quote, “when you start telling someone, ‘you are really great at x, but when you do y…’ the BUT negates all the goodwill that you are building up with the first part of your sentence.  The BUT gets someone’s defenses up, and makes them way less able to hear the important thing you want them to listen to.” (see https://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20121130041419-9947747-how-to-give-great-employee-feedback).

This is another good example of superficial understanding of how human beings function. In short, my argument is as follows: human beings are adaptive beings. So during a performance review they can easily adjust their mental sensors to read through the lines quite effectively and decode whether “AND” really means they are deficient in some respect. So replacing “BUT” with “AND” is in my humble opinion not an effective way to get positive results in the short term or help the employee to grow in the long run.

A much more effective (in the transformative sense) approach is to give the employee the larger context, to show them how their behavior affects the bigger picture, and to encourage them to find ways to upgrade their individual behavior accordingly. That is a powerful motivator and it’s a way of treating the employee with due maturity and respect. It can be the beginning of a fruitful partnership in achieving a larger vision and mission.

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