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OK ladies and gents, I need your help please.

[b]First, a little framework:[/b] I’ve recently been promoted into a team lead role in a QA group– no hiring/firing/performance review responsibilities, but I am responsible for dividing up the workload, making sure we meet our deliverables, training new staff, etc. You probably won’t be surprised that I’m a high D with some I and C, pretty nonexistent S. The person hired into my old role has been training with me for 6 months now, and I’d peg her as a high S with some C. Training has been slow and painful for both of us, but the DISC podcasts have helped me immensely to slow myself down and try to communicate on her terms. Now that she is getting up to speed, I am starting to transition into the team lead role, giving her full ownership of the old role.

[b]The problem:[/b] When this person gets stressed or feels overwhelmed, her professionalism and normally kind demeanor fly out the window, and she explodes in an angry, panicky, rant. The content of the rant typically involves a lot of martyrdom, blaming everyone else involved for not taking their jobs seriously or respecting her time or need for information/deliverables, and basically consipiring to make her fail. Having been in the role myself, I know the people she is complaining about, and I know that they are some of the smartest, most dedicated and patient professionals I’ve ever worked with. I don’t really know what’s happening in her head, but I think it’s a defense mechanism where she wants to have a scapegoat lined up in case she messes up.

The first time she blew up at me was during a truly stressful period, her first time running a main deliverable on her own (with me as backup, instead of the other way around)…and I chalked it up to her being new on the job and overwhelmed. I listened, talked her down from the ledge, and the next day she acted like nothing ever happened.

A couple weeks later she blew up at me again over something else, loudly and in a public area. I convinced her to continue the conversation a conference room, and it took 45 minutes to calm her down. This time I mentioned it to our boss. He said he would have handled it the same way but that he would give her feedback about it. He doesn’t use the feedback model, and the feedback never actually got delivered.

Since then, she has about four more outbursts, sometimes at me, sometimes at others in our group, once at our boss. Each time, our boss said he would deliver feedback after she calmed down, and he has not actually done so.

On Friday I was the recipient of the most recent outburst, during which she blamed members from that other team for not being available, and threatened to escalate it to their manager. These people have always been responsive when needed, and have always gone the extra mile for us – and the situation she needed them for was not urgent. I spoke to my boss about it again, and he asked me to deliver the feedback. She has now been out of the office for two days, and I’ll need to talk with her about it when she’s back. So, this would be my first time using feedback, I’m not technically her boss, and it’s a fairly big issue. Nothing like jumping right in, huh? Here’s what I’m thinking of saying:

[b]My Feedback:[/b]
(Name), may I give you some feedback?

(Name), when you vent to me in a loud, angry, frustrated tone of voice about relatively small issues, and threaten to escalate them to other people’s management, here’s what happens. I get concerned about your ability to handle the stress that this role comes with. The people in the cubes around me overhear it and get stressed out over whether you’re going to blow up at them someday, and whether they can trust you to keep a level head when things get truly stressful. I worry that you will escalate small issues to management, and undermine the relationships we’ve built with these other groups, such that they won’t be as eager to go the extra mile for us when we need it. What can you do differently next time?

davefleet's picture

Hi Maura,

I like that you've taken into account the person's high S personality and adjusted the feedback accordingly. That should help. I think you might be able to take that even further - if you're working in a team, you could say, "the team worries about..."

I advise you to focus more on behaviours, rather than your conclusions about those behaviours. For example, 'Angry' and 'frustrated' are conclusions about how she's feeling. Rather than say, "loud, angry, frustrated," try something more like, "When you raise your voice to me..."

That's my two cents. Hope it helps!

Dave

WillDuke's picture

[quote](Name), when you vent to me in a loud, angry, frustrated tone of voice about relatively small issues, and threaten to escalate them to other people’s management, here’s what happens. I get concerned about your ability to handle the stress that this role comes with. The people in the cubes around me overhear it and get stressed out over whether you’re going to blow up at them someday, and whether they can trust you to keep a level head when things get truly stressful. I worry that you will escalate small issues to management, and undermine the relationships we’ve built with these other groups, such that they won’t be as eager to go the extra mile for us when we need it. What can you do differently next time?[/quote]

I think you're still chafing in that first sentence. I'd go with something like
"When you raise your voice and threaten to escalate issues to management here's what happens."

Second sentence.
"Our team is constantly on edge worrying about being your next target. The other groups avoid working with you, or at least go into a defensive posture, rather than going the extra mile to help us out. This isolates you and makes your job even harder."

I think that's lined up pretty good for an S. I thought about adding something about your team feeling alienated, but worried it was getting too long.

LouFlorence's picture

Hi Maura -

These are tough situations even for experienced managers. Welcome to management! The good news is that you have given yourself a great advantage by being here.

In this case, I would say that you should not make too big a deal about this particular bit of feedback. The important thing is to do it. If the words are not exactly right, so be it. The point is that you are holding her behavior up for her to see and asking her what she could do differently. No big deal. Then, when she does it again, offer more feedback immediately rather than going into a long hand-holding session. Repeat as needed. I expect you will see a significant behavior change sooner rather than later.

If the behavior does not change, then it is time for the person who has hiring/firing authority to get involved. Public tirades are not acceptable in a professional workplace.

regards,
Lou

WillDuke's picture

I was just re-reading, and I realized I missed a major point.
[quote]When this person gets stressed or feels overwhelmed, her professionalism and normally kind demeanor fly out the window, [/quote]
Focus on positive feedback when she's normal. Reinforce that behavior! Then, when you have to give corrective feedback you have a reference point.

maura's picture

Thanks so much everyone. Hopefully she is back in the office tomorrow so I can speak to her.

MattJBeckwith's picture

Maura, it looks like I'm a little late in the critique giving department so let me just say kudos to you! The first (hundred) time(s) I used the feedback model I messed it up pretty bad, even after listening to the 'casts. I even messed it up in front of Mike and Mark at the conference!

Give tons of feedback, mostly affirming and it will become natural.

Bravo to you for what you've done thus far!

Were you able to give the feedback?

Mark's picture

To be fair, DaveTehre is pretty damn good at this stuff.

Hey Dave. :wink:

Mark

MattJBeckwith's picture

Thanks for the compliment Mark!

Being good has a lot to do with the help from you and Mike, and the great community here on the forums.

asteriskrntt1's picture

Hi Maura

If I remember the feedback podcast correctly (ok, I just listened to it again yesterday), please also expect a lot of pushback from the recipient. Don't be shocked and don't take it personally. Take a breath, be prepared to go to the conference room again and be able to take a step back.

If pushed, you can always say something like "ok, let's revisit this in a week" or whatever.

And finally, she might say... "No, you can't give me any feedback" and you have to respect that, even though her set of behaviours is not being respectful of you and the teams.

Please let us know how things went.

*RNTT

maura's picture

Thanks everybody.

Long story short, I chickened out and decided to find at least three positive things I could give her feedback on first, to get her used to the feedback model before I dealt with the negative issue. I want the model to work long-term, and I feared that with her, if I started out with a major negative one, it would be so much harder to get her to buy into the model and accept future feedback. But yeah, it was partly due to my being scared to deliver it too.

The way the timing worked out, I was actually able to give her [i]positive [/i]feedback about a time when she held herself together well instead of blowing up. So, the feedback about her emotional outbursts actually turned into something like this instead:

"Coworker, may I give you some feedback? When you stay calm and work toward finding a better way to work with people from outside groups, even when next steps aren't as clearly laid out as we might like, it really fosters the team spirit and builds people's confidence that they can count on you. Great job."

I feel great that I was able to do some positive reinforcement on the behaviors we want her to continue, and now that we're both getting used to doing feedback, I think the adjusting feedback will be easier for me to deliver and her to accept.

juliahhavener's picture

Maura, that's a great way to start, really. ESPECIALLY if you can highlight something she did well that she doesn't always.

You're not a chicken! I see no wings!!

jhack's picture

There is research on this stuff, and it is clear: positive feedback is more powerful than negative.

Good going!

John

WillDuke's picture

I'd add that not only does it make sense to start out with positive like you did, but you found positive feedback on the exact same issue you think you might have to give negative feedback on later. This way she already knows you notice when she does well, so of course you'll notice when she doesn't.

I'd say you hit a bullseye on this one.

RichRuh's picture

Maura,

At the conference, Mark suggested giving 10 pieces of positive feedback for every piece of adjusting feedback. While I'm probably not quite at that ratio, I definitely give more positive than negative. There are only some of the advantages to this:

* Directs don't freeze in panic when you give them feedback, since they know it is probably positive. They're more receptive to feedback in general
* Helps establish your credibility- directs know that you're paying attention to their good stuff as well as their "bad"
* Helps establish a positive vibe in your workplace, for your directs AND for you. This last one is my own finding. If you spend a lot of time looking for good things to say about people, well... you start to feel pretty positive yourself.

--Rich

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