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Your adjectives are your worst enemy
June 06, 2017

To lead performance - you must be objective

I often receive questions similar to this one:

“How do I deal with direct reports who are elusive, secretive, socially awkward, overbearing, or condescending?”

This question is disastrous for the following reason …

The person asking this question is using adjectives: “elusive,” “secretive,” “socially awkward,” etc.

What happens when you use adjectives in your performance management?

When you use adjectives in your performance management, you make judgments about your direct report:

For example: “You are condescending”

But – what does “condescending” mean?

If you ask five people to explain to you what a “condescending employee” is – and you ask them to write their explanations on a piece of paper, and then you ask them to read out loud what they wrote – you will hear five explanations that are NOT identical.

What does this mean?

It means that we all have different glasses through which we see reality – and therefore we all interpret it differently.

It means that when you use adjectives and you say, “he is a condescending employee” – you are not talking about the employee anymore.

You are talking about what you believe a condescending employee is – you are talking about yourself.

This is why adjectives bring you to the world of subjectivity.

And you cannot / must not do performance management in the world of subjectivity.

You must do performance management objectively – always.

Now – let me ask you the very same question but in a different way:

“What behaviors do you observe in your employee that makes you conclude that he is a condescending employee?”

For the sake of this example – let’s assume that you give me two answers:

“He often interrupts his peers while they are talking with him”

“He almost never listens to his peers when they try to give him feedback”

Now you are telling me about two behaviors:

  • He interrupts
  • He doesn’t listen

    Behaviors are observable, measurable and specific – therefore objective.

    Behaviors allow you to give specific feedback – whether it is positive feedback or constructive feedback – to increase desired behavior and to decrease undesired behavior.

    When you focus on behavior when giving feedback – you manage the performance of your direct report in an objective way.

    But if you tell your direct report that he is condescending – he might feel judged by your adjective, his ego might get in the way, and you might fall into a never-ending discussion filled with subjectivity about whether you are right or wrong in your judgment.


    Instead of placing adjectives on your direct reports, focus on their behaviors – and your performance management will become much more effective.

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    Joseluis Romero - Publisher
    June 6, 2017. Copyright: All rights reserved
    I publish "Leader Newsletter" on the first Tuesday of every month
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