In the workplace, performance warnings, whether verbal or written, are probably more common than most people think. Sometimes warnings come in the form of a serious one-on-one coaching meeting with the employee’s manager, and sometimes they come in the form of a rather severe written warning as a last-ditch effort to ‘save’ an employee before firing them. In either case, managers are trying to communicate that there’s something lacking in the way the employee is doing his or her job, and that there’s room for improvement, change in work habits, or both. So if you happen to be in the position of getting a performance warning, how should you respond?
With Humility and Respect
While there’s certainly no fun in being involved in any side of a performance warning discussion, for a manager it can be particularly frustrating if the employee doesn’t seem to be taking the warning seriously. If you happen to find yourself in the unfortunate position of being warned, make sure that you are listening, looking your manager in the eye and letting him or her speak their peace before responding. Even if you have to do it through teary eyes or clenched teeth, accept the warning message with humility and be respectful of the one who’s delivering it. Even if you disagree, wait until your manager is finished before you speak, be sure to avoid a tone of disrespect or anything that sends a message that you think the warning is a bunch of hooey (even if you really do, save those sentiments for another time). In the end, if your manager believes that you aren’t taking the warning seriously and considering all its merits, it will be harder for them to be convinced that you will be committed to addressing those areas of concern.
One of the most effective ways to respond to a performance warning is by making sure you understand your manager’s point by asking questions. Not, “What do you mean you have some concerns about the way I handled that? I’d like to see you do it better!” But rather, “How can I make this better?” or “How can I improve in that area.” The idea here is not to expect your manager to have all the answers to how you can improve your performance. That’s for you to decide, since in most cases there will be multiple routes to reaching the same goal. Rather, the idea is to make sure that you are clear about your manager’s expectations, so that you have a good idea of the things to do in order to avoid a repeat warning.
With a Plan
After you’ve received a performance warning, make sure you have a plan for what you’ll do next. If you believe that your manager was being genuine and sincere in giving you feedback that really will help you to get your performance on track, then your plan should include a number of specific actions you’ll take to make the necessary improvements. On the other hand, if you think the warning was unfair, inaccurate or simply a veiled attempt on the part of the manager to ultimately push you out of your job, then your plan should include an exit strategy from the job, the company, or both. Whether you’re reassessing your job and how to make improvements, or updating your resume, make sure that you’ve thought through exactly what you’re going to do or not do after getting that warning message.
Performance warnings are uncomfortable for managers and employees alike, and if given a choice, almost everyone would choose to avoid them. However, managers will always be giving performance warnings, and somewhere an employee will be on the receiving end of one. So, if you ever happen to be in the unfortunate position to be given a performance warning, make sure to do everything you can to listen and understand, and then make a plan to either move up in your manager’s eyes, or out.
by Melanie Haniph