Once again that same problem employee has disappointed you. Whether it was missing a deadline, interrupting you during a pivotal client presentation, or not "sweating the details" on an important project, this employee never fails to disappoint. Your choices are limited. Hiring a replacement is onerous, while teaching feels futile.  If you have earned the responsibility of manager, you most likely have experienced the shortcomings of others. Here is how to turn those hard times into teachable moments.

 

Step one: Recognize

In order to give meaningful feedback with a sense of leadership and clarity, first regulate yourself. When we are stressed and angry, we start to lose perspective. Our brains become muddled, and our thoughts fly out of control. This is because a small almond shape organ, the amygdala, hijacks our higher order thinking.  When we feel anxious, we secrete a hormone called cortisol which signals our organs to prepare for an acute physical threat.  Located at the base of our brain, the amygdala receives the signals and sends diffuse projections to the more sophisticated regions of the brain.  Ironically, when we need our brains the most, our bodies interpret  stressful feelings as potential acute deadly attacks.  At this time, higher order thinking is on hold as   our body prepares to flee without over thinking.  Not helpful in an office setting.

How do we stop this automatic response? First, recognize when you are in it. You might notice your thoughts become populated with black and white thinking. Words like "never," "always" and "should" are common. You might notice your body becomes tense.  These are all clues that a stress response is in full swing. Right now is not the time to press send on an email, text, or make a phone call.  Instead, precede to step two.

 

Step two: Recalibrate

Now that you realize you are in no state to relate, take ten minutes to recalibrate. Most of us have developed ways to calm ourselves, but deep breathing is my favorite. Set the alarm on your phone for five minutes, and begin to focus on the breath. Each time your thinking sways,  bring it back to the breath. Moving the body can also be helpful. Excuse yourself and go for a walk. Shut your door and do ten jumping jacks. You will be surprised how a physical jolt can change your mindset.

 

Step three: Respond

Once you feel your body loosen, your mind is also more flexible.   Now, approach that employee. When giving constructive criticism, digital is inferior to in person communication. When you are alone with your employee, calmly state what you are upset about, and ask him or her to explain their experience. Listen completely, without interrupting. Give him or her the benefit of the doubt.  Once your employee has finished speaking, you can ask a few clarifying questions, but remain supportive.  Next, try to state back your employee's experience.  This communicates that you were listening and also that you are on the same page. For example, "so, you decided to skip that step because you had seen your colleagues avoid it in the past, and you felt pressured for time." Then, clearly state what your concerns are, and how you would like your employee to behave in the future. Try to give concrete and accessible guidelines,  to guide him or her in the future. When possible, make a personal connection to the event. For example, "when I was starting out, I did not always know which details were important. I made mistakes before I decided to write down my questions and shoot them in an email to my supervisor." When you make a personal connection, it shows the other individual your humanity.  This goes a long way in building connection and commitment to improve.

Taking the time to recognize, recalibrate, and respond allows you to center yourself and give clear feedback. This can helps create a foundational relationship with your employee that later serves as a launching pad to build technical skills, professionalism, and loyalty.