Work games: managers and workers play several

As a manager, can you level with your employees when they have a problem in performance or style?

Although leveling is vitally important, many managers hope their employees will figure it out for themselves.

As an employee, even though you want to know where you stand, do you find some of the feedback hard to take?

Playing communication games can sidetrack the senders ‘and receivers’ feedback. The feedback process begins to look like a game of blindman's bluff.

Patricia McLagan and Peter Krembs' book, "On the level," (M & A Press, St. Paul, Minn., 1983), identifies some of the games and players:

It's My Duty
The sender gives feedback totally out of obligation. The forms are filled out but he or she makes no commitment to share personal observations or help to solve problems. The result is a cold, lifeless process that doesn't help to coach or motivate.

The sender buries important messages with qualifiers and reservations - "You don't have to agree with this..." "I'm not really qualified to..." The message is smothered in trash that makes it difficult for the receiver to know what to do with the sloppy mess.

Sometimes, after saying something negative, the sender throws a lifesaver to the drowning receiver. The remorseful sender may say, "Well, don't worry about it, it's not important anyway..." or "You're really a great performer in these other areas..." The impact and seriousness sink.

Although asking leading and unnerving questions is great for trapping criminals, it will damage trust and create defensiveness.

In "Swami," the sender will hint indirectly or only think about the feedback. "He should know this is a problem without my telling him..." "She must be blind not to see she's off track..." The receiver may recognize the anger or frustration but not know what the real issues are.

These games help the feedback sender avoid making disclosures and being direct. Saying what you mean is the hardest job the feedback giver faces. It's your job to lay it on the table.

It's the receiver's job to hear the feedback and decide what to do with it. But the employee can use diversion tactics, too.

Wounded Animal
He or she looks hurt, pouts or sulks. The receiver interprets the feedback more broadly than it was intended.

The receiver is the biggest loser because few people want to be open and direct with him or her. If the manager takes responsibility for how the employee receives the message, it can ruin good communication.

Change the Scent
Rather than checking for understanding or asking for more details, the receiver changes the subject. "Changing the scent" prevents conclusions from being drawn and issues from being explored. Buy he time they're dealt with, they stink.

The sender is countered with "yeah but" (or "you don't understand" or "if you were in my shoes...") or with why the manager is wrong or even responsible for the problems. Listening stops, defensive walls go up and ammunition is stockpiled.

Ally Builders
The receiver's major tactic is to collect allies to prove that the feedback is wrong. While it's good to check out other opinions, being obsessed with "building up my side" will help the receiver avoid listening to and acting on feedback.

The receiver punishes himself or herself so the sender doesn't have to. It often happens when the receiver fears the worst and stops listening to what the manager really thinks. This is a familiar game for overachievers.

This game can also manipulate the sender into giving positive feedback. For example, a manager may want to give constructive criticism buy may end up throwing a "lifesaver" when the employee plays "Masochist." Both sides work together to avoid the whole point of honest, constructive feedback.

The receiver's job is to hold back defenses and really listen. This is easier to do if both parties focus on the feedback's potential value for growth and development.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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