“High performers need direct communication about what they are doing wrong. They need to hear, ‘this is what you did wrong, and this is how you need to correct it,'”  I overheard a gentlemen declare in a group discussion among managers that attended our recent workshop “EQ for Leaders.”

It gave me a warm feeling of nostalgia, remembering how blissful ignorance once was.  The truth is, I sometimes still default to this behavior as a manager, so simple awareness doesn’t necessarily result in a permanent behavioral shift.

First of all, let’s clarify what Dale Carnegie meant in his leadership principle, “call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly.” In How to Win Friends and Influence People. When this principle is recited by itself, it might be misinterpreted to mean “avoid conflict.” Dale Carnegie believed that conflict is healthy and can be an opportunity for growth, both in relationships and business.  His writings have countless examples.

This misunderstood principle means something much more practical.  And when practiced appropriately, we can maintain maximum productivity of our team members, while coaching them to improve performance.

One simple tactic we can use is recognizing the types of behaviors that we want to promote in front of the entire team.  For example, if we want our team members to communicate across departments more intentionally, we can deliver an annual award for this behavior, and present it in front of the entire company.  As we present the award, we can talk about how important it is for our clients that we bring down the silos internally.

That way, those employees that don’t normally make the effort to communicate with other departments are getting the message that this is what is expected, encouraged, and even rewarded.

Would it be easier to tell those individuals directly what we want them to do differently?  Sure, and this direct style of communication would save time in the short run.  But the skilled leader has more finesse, and can drive much wider adoption of any idea by calling out mistakes indirectly.

Download Dale Carnegie’s latest white paper on “Recognizing Leadership Blind Spots.”

Posted by Ryan M. Akins

Investor, Entrepreneur, Listener and Learner. Ryan currently serves as Regional President of Dale Carnegie for the North Texas region. He graduated from The Dale Carnegie Course in 2011.

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