My early style of communicating with an employee was to talk with him after something had gone wrong and then tell him—over and over—what should have been done instead of what he had done. I figured that if I said it multiple times he would be more likely to get it.

I was wrong. I came to learn this while in the midst of the longest remodeling project I have ever engaged in: the one I'm remodeling myself.

By asking for the time to interact with someone one-on-one and then going on and on, I was taking our relationship backwards. I eventually realized that I needed to do a couple of things differently:

  • Interact with each employee, one-on-one, at least a couple of times a year, and talk about anything but work. I would ask questions about the employee’s personal life, such as what he liked to do when he was not working and about his family life. By doing so I was making a deposit in his emotional bank account that I could draw on when the time came to deliver some constructive feedback.
  • I started asking questions instead of telling. I tried to use open-ended questions that were oriented towards coming to a solution working together as a team. That question-asking would draw in the employee and make it so he was supporting the outcome of the conversation.
  • I changed from “Why did you…?” to “What can we do differently so…?” My goal was to work together to make things better, not to always be placing blame on others. The shift in word choices helped make that more likely to happen.

Over time I became better at doing the one-on-ones without going on and on. Work became more fun for everyone, including me. Try it, as you likely have nothing to lose by doing so.