Monthly Archives: February 2013

Feedback or bullying – can we criticise our way to success?

shutterstock_29072275I am not a sensitive soul or an introvert.  Most of my life I have walked right up to people and told them where I thought they were going wrong.  Not a lot of those people are still speaking to me.  

I was taught to speak truth to power.

Somehow in that process I forgot that people don’t always have a strong sense of personal power, and there are times and places when this loud truth of mine is best left unsaid.   Those who loved me learned to duck, and everyone else walked away.

I am an extrovert, and I learn about things through talking about things.  The world of the introvert –who needs to walk away and think in private – was a closed book to me for most of my adult life.  They couldn’t get a word in edgeways, while I thought if it was important they would say something, interrupt me.

I still take up a lot of the oxygen in the room, but over time some patient souls have gentled me into looking beyond my intention (always good, of course) and into the havoc I occasionally create with my unsolicited and trenchant views.

I host a forum on LinkedIn, on bullying, harassment and discrimination in the UK looking at ways to prevent it, detect it and remedy it.   I have come to realise the connection between bullying and our managerial idea of performance feedback and communication.

This week I’ve been on the sidelines of several groups where conflict has broken out around public feedback and criticism.   Those who were giving the feedback and criticism were all acting from a standpoint of helpfulness and a desire to improve the outcome of a process.   All resulted in the criticism being received in an agitated or hostile way.

Online criticismIf criticism is well intentioned why would the person respond in such a hostile way?

1)    The intention behind the criticism does not affect whether performance itself improves as a result.  I used to think if I meant well, I did well – and the other person was to blame if it all went wrong (they had too much ego, couldn’t handle it, etc.).  It just doesn’t work.

2)    Unsolicited criticism rarely results in any change in performance – the most likely outcome is an argument or hurt feelings (amygdala hijack).   This method may stop someone doing something but is not likely to improve how they do it.  Walk up to the next ten people you meet and tell them how they could look better, eat better, earn more money, and see how many answers you get that don’t include   “…”!

3)    Public criticism is usually viewed by people who receive it as abusive and counter productive.  The public naming and shaming of people is normally regarded as a punishment and not a motivational or feedback tool.

When a group comes together for a common purpose, it is easy to assume that the same purpose is shared . . . and that our own method of achieving that purpose is naturally the right one.    That is rarely the case.

Inside an organisation, public criticism of an individual’s work can amount to bullying – with all the emotional and legal complications arising from that.  Work on the principle of public praise, private criticism (and you will have more colleagues who like you too).

Working in privateWhen we go online, we are in public.  The fact you can post to forums sitting on your sofa in your pyjamas can give a false sense of intimacy and privacy.  Try doing your social media more formally dressed to see if it changes your tone.

Criticism of all kinds abound on the online and offline world:

1)    Tactful – I wonder if you are trying to achieve….is that working?
2)    Direct – That needs improving
3)    Abrasive – That was a load of rubbish
4)    Abusive – You are an incompetent person
5)    Criminal – amounting to harassment and abuse that needs reporting

It is extremely rare anyone asks the question – What was the purpose of your actionWhat was the thinking behind it?    I wouldn’t walk up to you at a party and tell you I hated your outfit – not if I wanted you to talk to me.

You remember that guy at the party/networking event/meeting  you hated – the one who walked across the room and without even being asked told you what was wrong with the country today? (then kept at it for hours).  Remember how he changed your political views?  Your career choice?  The only thing he changed was your mood!

Online presence is not an invitation to be insulted – any more than going to a party is!   The wisdom of crowds does not come from shouting so loudly no one can think, but in sampling opinions and asking questions.   Reserve to yourself by all means the ‘right’ to be critical online but if  want the person to change how they are doing things – you should know – it is not likely to work.

We all need to raise the bar when it comes to our performance as bosses, managers, colleagues, friends, members of communities.   We can’t complain our way to paradise or criticise our way to success.

Our KoffeeKlatch intervention service around performance management is designed to get you moving, and to sort out where your business or your people are getting stuck.

Annabel Kaye is Managing Director of Irenicon Ltd, a specialist employment law consultancy.
Tel: 08452 303050                  Fax: 08452 303060
You can follow Annabel on


Filed under bullying at work, performance management, social media

Can we do redundancy with respect?

We all dread redundancy

We all dread redundancy

I have a confession to make.  I have been making people redundant and helping employers to plan and implement redundancies for over 30 years.   But I am not as good looking as George Clooney

There are two other differences from the film clip – I don’t have a great script writer or the opportunity to re-run scenes when they go wrong, and I don’t believe that someone other than the boss should dismiss.

I have seen so many types of redundancy being implemented.  I’ve always done what I could to make the process as fair as possible, and the communication as clear and compassionate as possible.    I am not saying I have always succeeded.  Anyone in an advisory role can only achieve so much.  The truth is that the law requires certain processes at certain stages, but it does not require the human touch.

For many organisations, the human touch is simply not part of the management systems.  Between finance and metrics, goals, targets and measurements, the custodian of the ‘human touch’ is often not the manager – who has individual relations with each of their direct reports – but Human Resources.

I work with a number of HR specialists who display an admirable understanding of the people side of redundancy, and advocate open, clear and compassionate ways of communicating.    Other HR practitioners are much more focussed on compliance.

We have always known that some redundancy (and other) dismissals were coldly, even brutally carried out.   Over 2.7million people have been made redundant in the UK in the last few years, and the number is still rising.  If we’ve had a ‘failure rate’ of 10%, that’s an awful lot of people being treated very roughly.  The real numbers may be far higher.

When I started working with the Redundancy Crusader, I felt reasonably proud of the work I had done – all the planning, communicating, working through how to deal with difficult feelings.  Then I began to hear from individual people who had been made redundant.  Some had been subject to really brutal moments of rejection, but others had gone through what I would have regarded as a fairly standard procedure.

After a while it dawned on me that there is a long way to go even the best organised redundancy exercise before we really have got a process that would justify the title “Redundancy with Respect”.    A lot of the processes which I had taken for granted as self-evidently needed were causing trauma to individuals who were not given any kind of understanding about what was going on and why.  When we talked, they understood the thinking behind the decisions, but asked “Why wasn’t I told that was happening to everyone?”  “Why wasn’t I told that would happen?”   “Why did I have to find out that way?”

We are doing more harm than we know, and far more harm than we need to.  No-one likes to make anyone redundant, but that is no excuse for doing it as badly as generally we are.  If we can’t wake up to the human cost on a simple humanitarian basis and change what we do, then consider this:

All those hurt people (and their friends and family) are on social media.  Signing a compromise agreement may stop them complaining, but it won’t stop their friends and family feeling very negative about the precious brand you took years to develop.

We know that people use social media and the internet to choose fairtrade suppliers, and to monitor working conditions of workers in China.  Ask yourself what would happen if their view of your brand were to be influenced by how they saw your values as an employer?

Genuine “employee engagement” is not much helped by bolting on some bells and whistles, or special events.  It’s about the “brilliant basics” of the human touch on a day-to-day basis, and that’s never more important than when you are having a hard conversation about someone losing their job through no fault of their own.  We can, and we must, do better.

No ambushes
No surprises
No refusing to look at the person.

We are working hard to spread that word that Redundancy can be done with Respect.

If you are a boss or an HR person thinking of making someone redundant, click here to join us for this free teleseminar on Redundancy with Respect on 26 March at 12 noon or claim some free advice to get you started.

March 11th

March 11th

Click here to here our appearance on Croydon Radio on 11th March  

If you have time for a longer video, watch us on TV (video is just under an hour long)

Annabel Kaye is Managing Director of Irenicon Ltd, a specialist employment law consultancy.
Tel: 08452 303050                  Fax: 08452 303060
You can follow Annabel on Twitter


Filed under employment law, redundancy