A WOMAN WHO WORKS for me is always messing up the details. She s not bad enough to be called incompetent, but she s so borderline that you always worry about her work.
When someone is always doing marginal work, it can test your ability to have a clear and specific crucial confrontation:
Okay, it s not that you didn t respond to the client; it s that you didn t do it in what I would call a prompt fashion and had a bad attitude when you did respond.
Taking a vague and stilted position like this can be hard to defend and makes you vulnerable to arguments such as You re never satisfied no matter how hard I try. Now it s your problem, not theirs.
Three factors set those who are adept at dealing with subtle, borderline behavior apart from the rest of the pack: research, homework, and connections.
First, you need to gather data. Have a conversation with the marginal performer about what she likes and doesn t like about her current work situation. What are her frustrations, aspirations, and concerns? Approach your research conversation with a genuine desire to discover underlying barriers and then see if you can find ways to resolve them.
Next, scrupulously gather facts ”from memory and observation ”that will allow you to describe in illuminating detail the difference between mediocrity and excellence. This is crucial. Most people are so vague about that difference that they end up using the feel-good, mean-nothing terms that typically pepper pregame speeches, such as Your attitude determines your altitude and We need you to give 110 percent. This advice may make sense to those giving it but only confuses and insults the people who are supposed to change.
Ask yourself, What actual behaviors can I describe to make this distinction clear? Here is an example:
I notice that after finishing a letter you skim it once then hit ˜send. When it s going to an external recipient, I ve found that it helps to take three extra steps: spell check and
then grammar check it, reread it a couple of hours later, and then ask a reliable partner to read it thoroughly.
You will not succeed at helping other people understand the gap between where they are and the vague objective of excellence unless you do the homework required to make your descriptions crystal-clear. Carefully gathering useful facts is the homework required for crucial confrontations .
Finally, connect your homework with your research. Explain how your recommendations will not only resolve others concerns but also help them achieve their aspirations. When you can make this link, your influence will increase enormously. If you can show the other person how the changes you re recommending link to his or her own goals, there s a good chance that the person will be motivated to learn and grow. If you can t do that, don t expect the person to improve.