Have you ever heard a manager give feedback to their entire team, but you knew that feedback was intended for one specific person on the team?
If so, you’ve witnessed the “scattershot approach” of giving feedback — spraying little pellets of candor across the entire team rather than delivering a tough message to the single person who needs to hear it.
To all of you leaders out there, do you sometimes use this approach?
I’ve definitely used it in the past, and it’s caused a lot of problems.
In my first management job, I had a team member who routinely arrived late to work. The majority of my team was punctual, but “Gary” was not.
I knew I should probably talk to Gary about his tardiness, but I was worried about how he would respond. Every time I’d given him feedback in the past, he had become angry and defensive.
Because I was scared to encounter Gary directly, I blasted a message at my entire team: “Hey everyone, just a reminder: please show up to work no later than 8 am. We need to start unloading the truck promptly at 8 o’clock so we can finish stocking the shelves before the store opens.”
Here’s what happened when I shared that message:
- Gary didn’t take the hint.
- One of my top performers (someone who was incredibly punctual) came up to me afterward asking if I was upset at her for showing up two minutes late last week.
- Another employee asked me who on the team had been showing up late.
With one blast, I managed to do three unproductive things:
- I failed to address Gary’s problem.
- I scared one of my top performers.
- I stirred up the rumor mill.
When we share feedback this way, we cause collateral damage. Innocent team members begin questioning if they’ve done something wrong. Others start wondering about the intended recipient of the message: Is someone going to get fired? Who is in trouble? And yes, the guilty party often loses the message entirely. Cognitive dissonance causes them to assume the message wasn’t meant for them.
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What I should have done is use a laser-pointer approach by speaking with Gary one-on-one. I should have had the guts to talk to him directly rather than blasting the entire team for his mistake.
The laser-pointer approach ensures that the message is delivered unambiguously and candidly to the person who needs to hear it. Although this approach is more challenging, it is much more effective.
The next time you need to share a tough message with someone, which approach will you choose?
Bobby Powers is Gravity’s head of learning & development and people analytics. He writes regularly about leadership and business at BobbyPowers.net and at Medium. This post is cross-posted with his permission.