General Question

funkdaddy's avatar

Have any tips for establishing a pattern of behavior without arguing the details?

Asked by funkdaddy (12988 points ) November 6th, 2010

I run a small web design/development company and often work with other contracted folks either that I find or the client provides. There is a young designer (let’s call her Jill) I’ve worked with on several projects lately. Jill’s great at her job, intelligent, organized and we work well together so we’ve each provided the other with work in the last year or so. Unfortunately Jill’s professionalism in dealing directly with clients has a few holes.

I’m not her boss, but she’s always been open to suggestions, especially with the “business” side of things. So I’ve tried to illustrate how it could be damaging and how those situations could be handled better.

The conversations get sidetracked into arguing the details of whether or not her actions were called for in a particular situation. The single situations aren’t important, establishing the pattern is. I’d like her to see that any one of the situations won’t be a problem, but 3–4 with the same client will have that client looking elsewhere or at a minimum being more critical of our work as a whole. 20 minutes into the conversation she feels she’s justified everything and I feel I’ve failed to make my point.

Some examples of the behavior I’m talking about would be
– taking phone calls at the table during client meetings
– firing off snarky emails to client’s change requests
– bringing up client mistakes when it’s not productive
– very protective of her work

How can I establish the pattern of behavior without getting bogged down in the individual occurrences? At this point it’s not just about helping Jill (who may need a concrete experience with the consequences before she sees the problem) but also about improving my skills with managing/helping people which will come in handy in the future.

Thanks for the time.

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8 Answers

HungryGuy's avatar

Very often, creative intelligent people have the hardest time dealing with the public. That’s just part of being human. I’m a hard-core computer geek. One time, during a bout of unemployment, out of desperation, I took a job selling cars. After 6 months, I sold a grand total of zero cars and got shown the door. I remember one day one of the salesmen made a comment like, “I’m sure glad there’s a need for sales jobs. I have nothing I could offer to those people working in that office building across the street.”

So just don’t put your creative people in a position where they have to deal with customers. You’ll be happier. Your creative people will be happier. And your customers will be happier. That may not be what you want to hear, but that’s just the way it is.

flutherother's avatar

Jill may be a little insecure. Try praising her abilities and what she has to offer the clients. Tell her what a great job she is doing and then slip in a comment about the negatives.

asmonet's avatar

You’re not her boss, it isn’t your business (you said you run it, you don’t own it I gather). So in what capacity do you operate? What IS your job? Why do you have a say in what Jill does besides her being open to input?
Any concerns with her behavior affecting the company haven’t gone well in the past. You may not be the one to reach her, you may not even be the one to try. Unless something happens leave it alone, or voice your concerns with her supervisor when you have something to bring to them.

As for your own skills, see posts above.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

She’s lucky to have someone like you who is willing to coach her instead of outright firing the company. I assume that you haven’t because it hasn’t been that detrimental and you value the work she does overall. If she has to be in contact with customers, here is a tip that I’ve picked up from the best managers I’ve ever worked for:

1.) After a meeting/phone call, ask her what she thought went well. If appropriate, agree with her and give specifics.
2.) Ask her what she felt didn’t go smoothly. If she offers anything, ask her why she feels that way and what could have been done differently.
3.) Wrap up the discussion with more of a ‘big picture’ summary vs. the details.

If this process is followed after every meeting, it comes to be expected and not just when you feel something went wrong and needs to be addressed. And just remember, your work and your profefessional behavior is a refelction of yourself, not her.

mrrich724's avatar

It is very good to give specific examples to illustrate a desired change in behavior. There is a management idea feeback model that might be helpful.Three steps:

First: Simply ask the person if they are ready to get feedback. Yes, this seems like an obvious, and too simple to be called a step, but it is. It’s as easy as, “Hey, do you mind if I give you a little feedback?” It is also most effective if you do it right after she does something you need her to change.

Second: You ask the person about the specific incident you want to address. For example, “you know how you just took the phone call while we were in the meeting ten minutes ago?” Unless she’s delusional, she’ll say yes.” And right there you can establish that it is an undesired behavior that occurs. Then you take the time to explain why you think it should change. “I know it might be a necessary call to take, but it can be perceived by the management team as . . . ”

Third and final step: You don’t TELL her how to fix it, you ASK HER. Example, “What do you think you can do to fix it?” This is crucial, because having her come up with her own solution does two things. One, it allows her to more easily recall it, and to be more open to doing it, since it was her idea. Two, it can kind of “lock” her into doing it. So if she falters again, she won’t say “well that’s what you want me to do, not what I want.” You can say, “hey Jill, I didn’t tell you to do this, you said you would, it was your own idea.”

I hope this helps. and if you follow step one, unless the person is just difficult anyway, it is always a very productive conversation. Most times people will say, “Yes, I do want feedback.” In the odd event that they say no, bow out gracefully, and tell them that they can approach you if they change their minds.

funkdaddy's avatar

To clarify the working relationship a bit, I own a company and when a client hires us, if their project needs additional people (either for their skills or because it simply requires more hands to get finished) I’ll find those people, negotiate rates, and they operate as an independent contractor. Usually they have their own business as well and we operate as peers. If a client wants direct contact with them, to give feedback or simply to meet who they’ll be working with, that’s not unusual.

Much like if you need a house built, you hire a general contractor and they’ll bring other people in to do the electrical, plumbing, tile work, etc. Sometimes the client doesn’t care who’s putting the toilet in, sometimes they want to work directly with the guy hanging the lights to get them just right. It’s the same way.

In this case, sometimes I’m the general contractor, sometimes Jill is. Neither of us is “the boss”, but it’s beneficial for us to do good work and to be perceived as professional. If we as a unit are better, the work is better, we get more jobs, we’re prouder of what we’ve created, and everyone goes on to live happily ever after.

@asmonet I think you’re imagining the feedback as a negative or that I’m trying to establish some sort of control over “Jill”... I’m not… we both help each other improve in an informal way. This isn’t a corporate environment, there is no supervisor or yearly reviews… there’s also no guaranteed income so relationships are really key…

@Pied_Pfeffer – great idea, and it would help me hone my skills with feedback from her (and others) as well

@mrrich724 – great tip, basically eliminate the need for the pattern by doing it right then… probably a good way to make the conversation less daunting as well

Jeruba's avatar

I’d say try to get at the principles or the subtext of the behavior and why it’s a wrong message. For example, from the customer’s point of view, taking phone calls may say “You are not as important as whoever might be calling me” and the principle is “You always want the customer you’re with to feel that he or she is the most important person you have to think about.”

Once you voice the subtext, you can see other things that express the same subtext. Or you can see instances that violate the same principle. There’s your pattern.

The customer’s feeling is not arguable. If the customer feels put off or offended or criticized, that IS the customer’s feeling, and there is nothing Jill can say that will change that. Focus on the customer’s perception and whether it is or is not conducive to a good, productive, and ultimately profitable relationship and not on how Jill justifies her own behavior. She must understand that the choices she makes have consequences. One of them might be that her services are no longer worth what they cost the company.

asmonet's avatar

@funkdaddy: I promise, I’m not. I think your heart is in the right place but your brain isn’t necessarily. You’ve tried as a colleague and a friend, but really if you’re not the boss, and no one is I don’t see it getting any better without you putting yourself into that role, even if unintentionally. So, see what it’s actually affecting, see if there’s something it’s really damaging, see if she HAS lost clients for your business. Otherwise, shut up and just let her do her thing, because I don’t think anything you say from the position you’re in – history, respect, whatever aside – is going to change jack.

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