Passive-aggressive behavior is destructive and should be addressed as soon as possible (particularly when it is affecting the whole team). Don’t wait for performance evaluations—act now! Constructive feedback is a powerful tool in shaping behavior and improving performance. However, many people fail to deliver it effectively, if at all. Constructive feedback can be viewed as overly critical, or is often vague and unclear, leaving the recipient unsure of what to actually do with the feedback. In addition, in an attempt to avoid confrontation or an uncomfortable situation, people may sugarcoat the feedback by downplaying the impact or minimizing the importance of it. In the end, this serves no one.
Schedule some uninterrupted time with the individual. When you meet, create a safe environment. Let the person know that you would like to share some feedback with him/her and state your intent in doing so. (It’s important to make the intent something they can support!) For example, “I’d like to share some feedback with you about some behaviors that I (as well as others on the team) have noticed. I want to talk to you about this so we can improve our working relationship and keep the team focused on the task at hand.” With this approach, it’s more likely he/she will be receptive to the feedback and hear what you are saying, rather than get defensive.
When giving feedback—particularly constructive feedback—it is important to do the following:
- Make it specific rather than general. Saying, “You have been passive-aggressive lately” is not as helpful as saying, “You agreed to take responsibility for completing the customer survey, but didn’t return any of my phone calls regarding this project and didn’t hand in the report.” The former statement leaves much room for interpretation and can cause confusion about what behaviors are actually expected.
- Make it descriptive rather than evaluative. This means that the feedback should focus on the facts, as opposed to saying what is good or bad. This also helps the recipient be less defensive. Instead of saying, “Your follow-through is poor,” it is more effective to say, “The team was in a real crunch today, trying to get the presentation slides to the client to be reviewed. I was counting on having the highlights of your report included in the presentation. This caused us to be late in getting the slides to the client. Next time we have a deadline like this, I’d like to see you deliver your portion on time.”
- Check for understanding and emotion. Make sure the recipient hears and correctly interprets the intended message. Look at the facial expressions: Does he/she look surprised, shocked, confused, angry, or ambivalent? Invite the recipient to ask clarifying questions or have them paraphrase the message to check for understanding. Also invite them to discuss how they are feeling. You might say, “You look rather surprised. How are you feeling right now? Are you clear on what’s expected? Is there anything else you’d like to discuss?”
- Ask how you can support the person in improving. Asking what the recipient needs from you opens up the dialogue and lets the person know that you are there to support him/her and want to see him/her succeed. Asking, “What do you need from me to help you get your work done on time?” may elicit a response that sheds light on some of the underlying issues.
About Jim Woods
Jim Woods is a successful leadership trainer, speaker and executive coach. He speaks on employee engagement, leadership and change management, leading instead of managing and customer service. He is an author, a former fifth grade and university teacher with an impressive resume. He is beloved by audiences. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin.