Tag Archives: office communication

Turn mistakes into lessons

The way you respond to someone’s error often determines whether the person learns from the mistake … or repeats it again and again. To keep mistakes from inhibiting people’s development:

  • Show enthusiasm for the lessons each mistake can teach. Example: “This is a great chance to learn!” Don’t frown, flash anger or look to blame.
  • Level with the person about how serious the mistake was and how much damage it caused. Don’t discount it or wave it off as “nothing” or “no big deal.”
  • Demand accountability, not an apology. Tell those who err that you want them to take responsibility for the mistake and assess what went wrong.
  • Assure the person that you accept the error as long as it doesn’t happen again. Example: “This doesn’t affect how much faith I have in you, and I expect that you know now how to avoid this in the future.”


Respond to people’s weak suggestions

During a problem-solving session, a coworker offers a suggestion that seems neither realistic nor particularly useful. Take these steps to respond:

  • Validate the suggestion by paraphrasing it back to your coworker. “So you are suggesting that we fly everyone to Vegas for a strategy session. Is that correct?”
  • State your concern. “One issue I see with that plan is that taking the whole group on a business trip right now will increase expenses at a time when we can least afford it.” State your concern decisively but without derision. Others in the group may either validate your concern or show you how it could be overcome.
  • Return to the problem-solving process. Specify a time frame for continuing the discussion, and set aside time to reflect on the progress the group is making. “Let’s continue bouncing new ideas around for another 15 minutes. Then let’s stop to see if we’ve come up with any ideas that are worth pursuing.” Make sure the group agrees to your plan before you proceed.

— Adapted from “Overcoming Resistance: The Role of the Meeting Facilitator,” Michael Goldman.

How to answer negative questions

When someone asks you a question in a negative tone, avoid the urge to respond in the same manner. Instead, include the question as part of your answer and neutralize the questioner’s negativity. Examples:

  •   “Why can’t you finish the report by noon?” Answer: “The noon deadline is as important to me as it is to you. To meet it, I need the sales data before 10 a.m.”
  • “Why didn’t you use a spreadsheet?”Answer: “That’s a valid question. I based my decision on the complexity of the task you gave me.”
  • “Why wouldn’t you want to work in sales?”Answer: “I’m pleased that you’ve considered me for a position in sales. Whether that would be a good experience for me depends on the company’s reorganization plan.”
  • “Why aren’t you studying for the certification?” Answer: “I appreciate your interest in my studies. But studying for the exam and fulfilling my work requirements at the same time would strain me severely at the moment.”


Help employees solve conflicts

Two of your employees don’t get along. Help them put their relationship back on track. Here’s how:

First, meet with each person individually. Explain that each of them must find a way to co-exist peacefully—for the good of the team and the organization. Then ask them each a few questions to spark a discussion.


  • What exactly is the issue between you two?
  • How does it affect your work?
  • What are the root causes?
  • What have you done to contribute to the problem?
  • What is your common purpose?
  • What do you need from the other person to meet that purpose?
  • Have you told the other person what you need?
  • What have you done—or could you do—to resolve this?

Usually, that will be enough to resolve the feud. If the sparring persists, however, tell the pair: “You don’t have to like each other, but you have to work effectively together. If you can’t reach a solution, negative consequences will follow for you both. Now, what steps are each of you going to take?”

— Adapted from “Managers Need Action Plan to Get Co-Workers to Co-Exist Peacefully,” Wausau Daily Herald (Wisconsin), http://www.wausaudailyherald.com.

Giving feedback to the boss

Your boss is encouraging you to offer honest feedback and share your opinions. You hesitate to do so, because the boss sometimes doesn’t react well to being challenged.

Use these strategies to tell your boss what you need to say—without being too pushy.

  • “May I play devil’s advocate?” When you open with that request, you position and cushion your comments. When you play a “role”—as devil’s advocate—the boss won’t react to your feedback personally.
  • If you decide to go that route, my concern is …” Offer a helpful warning that is designed to protect the boss from making a bad decision. That shows you are thinking ahead and considering consequences. Note: Deliver that line in a thinking-out-loud tone. That prevents your comments from sounding arrogant.
  • I understand why you would think that way—because of X,Y and Z. But what about this alternative?” Your boss will be much more willing to listen to your idea after you acknowledge the validity of the favored course of action. That makes you seem more like partners brainstorming, rather than a subordinate criticizing the boss.

— Adapted from “How to Coach and Give Feedback” by Joan Lloyd.