No MBA mumbo-jumbo, just stuff that's worked through 30 years of team-building in business and the military.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

How to Counsel

There are right and wrong ways to counsel team members.

Remember, the point of counseling is to get everyone back on the same page. It's not punitive, and it has no goal other than restoring the harmony of the team.

So the wrong way is to bring an employee in and talk a lot. A better way is to say just enough so the team member understands why he or she is there, then listen. The less threatening the environment, the less emotional the response, and the better information you'll gather.

How do you do that? First, tuck your supply of adjectives back into the dictionary and stick to simple nouns and verbs. All those descriptive words carry emotional baggage. A simple declarative sentence like "Five shipments went out late" or "You argued with so-and-so" puts the issues on the table as painlessly as possible.

Stick to the facts. Dates and specific actions are easily established, and defended if it comes to that, and it focuses their responses on the facts. If you slip into judgment, or other people's opinions, you invite the team member to attack either your judgment or other people. Neither of those beginnings will lead to an ending you like.

Remember, listen a lot. Invite him or her to speak. Say things like, "I want to understand," or "I've only heard part of the story yet, and I'd like to hear more from you."

Finally, try not to have preconceived notions. Give your team member a fair hearing, and then take some time to think before you decide. The employee may have to change some things, but you or other team members might have to too. And maybe there are some organizational dysfunctions to correct. Make sure you let all of that come out, or you'll be having the same conversation again down the road.

Remember, counseling is shared discovery, not a debate. The only win comes when you again see eye to eye.

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