You know why I think I'm a good consultant? There's actually more than one reason. First, I know I know my stuff when it comes to whatever I'm consulting on; otherwise I don't accept the assignment. Second, I'm good with people I'm consulting with if they're willing to work with me.

Jiuck via Compfight

Over my years as a consultant, and many years before that, I've found that almost every person finds that others aren't always as proficient as they are, or think they are. That's because often we're not in a mental position to recognize what we're not good at, or can't see our faults through our perceptions. That's just the way life is; none of us is perfect to begin with, but sometimes all of us forge that piece of the pie.

For those times when we're right about someone else's lack of proficiency and we're the ones in charge, it's up to us to teach or work with others, to try to make them better.

How one decides to approach someone is often more important than the actual act of teaching or correction. Come at them too strong, they may rebel or defend. If you're not strong enough, you may not get their attention so that they'll listen. There has to be a balance between how direct you are and how non-threatening you come across.

Let's get this one out of the way. There are some leaders who feel that being blunt and direct is always the best way to talk to people. What I've found is that negative criticism rarely helps because more often than not those being criticized shuts down. I've also found that people who believe in the direct approach can't take it from others, which of course makes them hypocrites. 🙂

There's always a better way to communicate with someone who you have to work with when there are errors being made or you realize there's a lack of understanding of what should be occurring. For instance, it's definitely better to say "I found errors in this report" than to say "You made some mistakes in this report", but both might be perceived negatively.

I would tend to say "I believe there are errors in this report that we should look at and correct if needed". It's direct in its own way, but my way has turned a potential negative confrontation into a collaboration. I start from a position of there not being any blame because it's always possible there isn't any.

Albert Schweitzer
Andrew Becraft via Compfight

This works well when working with other leaders, whether they're reporting to me or we're peers at the time. It never pays to make someone in a leadership position look bad, especially in front of others, and it still gets the job done. I've found more leaders will work with me based on my approach than complain that I'm just another consultant coming in to try to tell them what to do.

There are times when you have to be more direct, especially if you're doing job performance reviews. You don't have to be mean about it but being wishy-washy sends the wrong message and makes you as the leader look incompetent.

If I needed to counsel someone whose work isn't up to standard I might say something like "There are deficiencies in your job performance that we need to address" because it's direct without being mean. Being more direct eliminates the hearsay aspect, and having it in writing is a must, but you'll come across as a professional with nothing personal added to your critique.

Saying something like "If you could change a few things I think you'll do just fine" is a bit too soft because you'll either not be as convincing as you need in describing the issues an employee has or not actually tell the employee what they're doing wrong. This is the "friend" approach, and unless you've been working with someone for a very long time I tend to believe that leaders and employees shouldn't really be friends, although being friendly is good.

Saying something like "You need to get better or you'll be looking for another job" is too direct, even if it's true. In today's world employers will be looking for new employees once a month because few millennials or anyone else is as scared of leaving their jobs as they were in the past. Good leaders won't intentionally alienate employees, which the above statement does pretty well.

Making sure the message you're trying to convey is understood is crucial, whether you're talking to peers or employees. Striking the right balance in approach will determine how your message is accepted. Nothing's ever 100% because people react differently to even minor confrontation, but if you can keep your message balanced and are normally even keeled on a daily basis you'll end up having the most success long term.