Six Ways to Corner Employees


Imagine the next performance-related conversation you have as if you and your employee are in a contained space.  You might picture a box, a four-walled room, or a space ship. The key is to picture a finite space, where the real estate does not expand.

In this confined space, when you talk, you take up space-a lot of real estate and a lot of air. The more you talk, the more space you take up. The more space you take up, the less room there is for the employee to contribute their ideas, share their perspectives, or to even have their own ideas. If you do all the talking, the other person ends up in the corner. Sounds claustrophobic, right?

It’s easy to take up a lot of space when you are a manager. Employees come to you for direction and you give it to them. You probably know the answers and you know how you want things done. Answering, instead of asking, is an easy pattern to fall into. Yet, it can create a sense of claustrophobia for employees. Managers create this kind of claustrophobia in employees in a number of ways. Have you ever backed an employee into a corner by:

1. Telling them how to do the job, rather than asking him/her for ideas?

2. Responding immediately to an employee’s question, rather than asking him/her what they think the answer might be?

3. Assuming you know the details of the situation and proceeding to solve the problem at hand before fully exploring the issue?

4. Doing more of the talking than the employee does?

5. Focusing on the end result, rather than helping the employee learn from the situation?

6. Asking closed-ended questions that imply there is only one right answer?

You may not even realize when you are taking up too much space. If your employee gets defensive or seems overly compliant, you’ve probably pushed too far. Instead, remember to stop, listen, ask questions, and provide space for the employee to contribute. Taking time to listen will create more space for them, which means they can fully participate in the conversation. Making space for the employee is critical because it allows him or her to share insights and eventually own the outcome. Plus, who ever enjoys being backed into a corner?

You can learn more about creating space in performance-related conversations in chapter seven of Painless Performance Conversations.  The chapter offers practical tools for inquiring with purpose and creating room for the employee to contribute.

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