WHAT IF THE FEEDBACK you want to give could crush the other person? I ve got an employee who thinks she s the world s best writer. She s always begging to compose letters . The truth is that her writing stinks. I don t have the heart to say anything.
Most people would rather take a blow to the head than say something that could devastate another person. Telling people that they are incompetent at something they take pride in certainly falls into this category. Bosses often go for years letting people think they re doing a good job when they re not. Then they either make up for the poor job themselves (doing a work-around ) or learn to live with substandard work. Both alternatives are unacceptable.
If you ve allowed a person to operate under the illusion of competency for quite some time, you really aren t in a position to judge whether that person is truly incompetent. You ve never held him or her accountable. Begin having crucial confrontations about single areas that could use some improvement. Express your appreciation for the person s willingness . This is something you can praise. Then explain that there is one thing you d like to see improve. You want to see him or her take the quality in the area you ve selected to the next level. Provide clear, direct, and detailed feedback about that area alone. Don t talk about problems per se; talk about setting new standards.
Once the person has improved in that area, pick another problem and work on it. Over time, if the person hasn t been able to improve, since you ve consistently and respectfully held the content conversations and worked to test your assumption about whether he or she is truly incapable of mastering the skill, you will have earned the right to have the larger relationship conversation.