Workplace Rights

Weekly (10/5/09)

Topic of the Week  Listen Up... Getting a colleague to hear what you say

Criticizing a coworker:
• DON’T ambush them.
• DO clarify intentions.
• DO problem solve jointly.
• DO assure confidentiality.

Your Rant: How do you get another employee to listen?

911 Repair,
It can be a huge challenge to get a coworker to hear what you’re saying. Which reminds me of a presentation that I gave to a room full of CEOs. In the first minute of the presentation a guy sitting in the front row pointed at me. He did it again and again. Trying to keep focused on the job at hand, I tuned him out.

It wasn’t until the speech was over that I bent over to pick up a piece of paper and realized my fly was open. That guy waving to me wasn’t a heckler, he was trying to help me. Sure some of the people who give us advice are just hassling us, but some are actually trying to do us a favor. We all need to remember that when we try to give advice to someone else. The three Do’s and one Don’t below should help your feedback break through. For more, check out “Business: The Ultimate Resource” (Perseus, 2003).

DON’T ambush them. Most people take pride in their work. That’s why it’s important before criticizing, and most feedback is just that, to give the feedbackee plenty of warning. Send an email or voice mail, whichever is their preferred way of getting information to give them a heads up. You can even try for the “anti-ambush” by letting them decide if and when you should meet to discuss it.

DO clarify intentions. YOURS! Let’s face it, much of our criticism is meant to put someone in his or her place, to intimidate or to show how smart we are. That’s why it’s important to start with your intentions. A trick that a mentor told me, always think of what you like about a person before you criticize them. that way you’re focused on trying to help them.

DO problem solve jointly. I worked with a group of senior volunteers many years ago. One volunteer was saying something that made me extremely nervous. Instead of telling her what to say, I sat down with her and expressed my concern without telling her what to do. She immediately suggested something else she could say that was far better than anything that I’d thought of. That’s why it is so important to get the other person engaged in the process, chances are they’ll come up with a better solution.

DO assure confidentiality. Again, we’re talking about criticism. Most people struggle with this. In a perfect world we could just use the “cone of silence” (any “Get Smart” fans out there?). Lacking the ability to have a secure and private conversation by pushing a button, you need to take them aside into a conference room or some other place where privacy can be maintained. If for no other reason than you’d rather have them listening to you than nervous that someone might overhear the criticism.

Follow this advice and you’ll fly high with your feedback instead of flying low.

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning If you have a question for Bob, contact him via

Thought of the Week

"All you'll get from strangers is surface pleasentry or indifference. Only someone who loves you will criticize you."

–Judith Crist

Blog of the Week

Top Five News Headlines

    List of the Week

    from Right Management

    Changing views of the boss... How employees feel when change is done poorly
    • When change is managed poorly, 45% don’t feel they’ll lose their job
    • When change is managed poorly, 32% feel they could lose it
    • When change is managed well, 80% feel like they’ll keep their job
    • When change is managed well, 7% feel like they could lose it


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