Honesty vs. Judgement

Asperger’s & NLD Career Letter, May 2021

When Kristin contacted me about coaching she was in a panic. She was put on a performance improvement plan (PIP) after 5 months at her job. During that time, one person on her staff resigned because of the way she was treated. Several others had complained to the department director.

Kristin was given two months to improve her management skills, or she would be fired. She had faced the same problems at two previous jobs, but resigned before being terminated.

“I can’t afford to keep losing jobs,” she exclaimed. “I don’t understand why people keep telling me that I am rude when I am simply giving constructive criticism. Aren’t managers supposed to do that?”

In the current job, Kristin managed 6 document specialists at a medical complex. The department was responsible for billing, payments, document storage and retrieval and other administrative tasks.

I asked Kristin for some examples of constructive criticism. When a new employee missed a step in a process, Kristin told her, “We went though this in detail this morning, but you chose not to follow the procedure.” To an experienced employee who made what Kristin considered to be a careless error she said, “You make this same mistake again and again. Do you think it’s fair that you are still paid your full salary?”

Kristin was genuinely confused about why people were upset by her honesty. What she didn’t realize was that her “honest” feedback was actually judgmental. This offended, angered and embarrassed others. Telling a staff member that she chose not to follow a procedure was Kristin’s opinion, and also implied that the employee was lazy.

Since it wasn’t her intention to hurt or offend anyone, Kristin had difficulty understanding their reactions. She needed to learn how to address situations rather than criticizing or evaluating a person. I shared an excellent feedback model from the book Finding Your Focus Zone, by Lucy Jo Palladino:

State the facts

Say how you feel

See through the other person’s eyes

Ask for what you want

Here is an example of how Kristin could address errors from a staff member:

“When the wrong insurance code is used” [factual statement of behavior]

“I am concerned because payment will be delayed” [how you feel]

“I understand that you’re under time pressure” [see through other person’s eyes]

“But I want you to double-check your work” [ask for what you want]

I also helped Kristin to understand that it was her responsibility to train and motivate her staff members. She was surprised that she was expected to make employees feel valued, and to offer praise and encouragement.

Although she made significant improvements in giving feedback, Kristin realized that she did not want to continue in a role that involved people management. She transferred to a job within the medical complex that involved document reviews. This enabled her to work independently. She did continue to work on her interpersonal communication skills, however, since he now realized how important they were in both her personal and professional lives.

Two of my favorite books about communication are Good Intentions Are Not Good Enough, A Guidebook for Anyone Who Feels Socially Out of Step (formerly published as Social Thinking at Work, Why Should I Care?) by Michelle Garcia Winner; and Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships, by Dr. Temple Grandin and Sean Barron.

Copyright 2021, Barbara Bissonnette, Forward Motion Coaching