Skeptics and Validation

SkepticsMost of us have spoken to an employee about expectations, given feedback, or completed a performance evaluation.  The process tends to produce one of three outcomes: ambivalence, anger, or satisfaction.    For the disengaged employee, our comments (regardless of nature) provide little more than noise.  If an employee still holds some linkage to their current job and organization, our comments can have a considerable impact.  Although most discussions of supervisor- employee interaction focus on the process and outcomes, attention seems to be shifting more to the mechanics.  In the last few years, a plethora of books has been published that provide phrases that a supervisor can draw on when interacting with an employee.  Some literally provide a step-by-step guide to how to stage the interaction, including the specific statements the supervisor should use at the beginning, middle, and end of the meeting.  Although these resources provide a basic template or guide that might be very helpful to a new or timid leader, they fail to provide for every contingency and may actually diminish credibility when a well plan script diverges from the randomness of human interaction.

Why should we be ready with contingencies? One of the big reasons relates to the fact that most employees approach workplace interaction with skepticism.  By skepticism, I mean a questioning of knowledge, facts, or opinions/beliefs.  Skepticism arises from a variety of sources, but in the workplace, it primarily relates to our ego’s desire to protect, concerns with organizational intentions, and a lack of trust.  What counters skepticism? Trust.  Trust takes time and grows as a relationship develops.

One common method of developing trust comes from validating interaction.  Put simply, it is easier to trust someone that has demonstrated his or her trustworthiness on multiple occasions over time and we can discern a supportive pattern.  One of the most popular methods of seeking validation pertains to requesting examples. The process typically involves someone making a statement and the receiver of the information asking for examples.

Think of the last conversation when someone bragged, “I saw a person eat 40 hot dogs in five minutes.” If you are not lucky enough to have friends that brag about witnessing extreme human challenges, think about other “big” experiences that someone might mention.   After the initial shock, the next question that comes to mind for most of us is: “who did you see do that?”  The question comes out naturally to validate the communication.

A more relevant example might be during an employee feedback sessions.  When a supervisor counsels an employee about a performance issue, employee wants specific examples. They want to know when something was not completed, who was the unhappy customer, or when did this process take longer than anticipated.  When a generic assignment is made to an employee, he or she will want to know specifics.  An employee wants to know how to complete the task, what should the outcome look like, and what is a satisfactory outcome.  In essence, it is human nature to want to know the details.  More than a few leaders have expressed their frustration with this requirement and I would imagine we have all wanted to cut a key conversation short to move on to someone else.  However, the key to our success lies in reducing skepticism.

How can we increase credibility, improve relationships, and build greater trust in the workplace? It all comes down to putting some thought into our interactions.  More important than memorizing key statements or “canned” rebuttals, we should ask ourselves:

  • What do I hope to accomplish through this interaction?
  • What details and examples do I need to be clear and gain employee trust?
  • How do I respond to the anticipated concerns or questions?