Dear Amy,

I work for my dad in his accounting business and I am now managing two people (not accountants-I’m not one either). So this is my first time as a manager. I’m getting frustrated a lot because I see problems with the people who work for me and I am not good at giving negative feedback. I’m concerned that I may not be cut out for managing people. Any suggestions?

Dear Rebecca,
Your discomfort with giving difficult feedback is something that almost everyone who takes on a management role struggles with, whether they’re a first time manager or a very experienced one. Giving critical feedback definitely takes practice-and diplomacy.
Keep in mind that a lot depends upon the context. Are these employees who’ve worked for your dad a long time…and maybe knew you when you were a child? Or, are they just about your age, and new to the business? Are you seeing the same problems in both of them? Are you micro managing them? Sometimes people make more mistakes when they constantly feel “monitored”. Are you aware of their unique strengths and learning needs?
My point in raising these questions is simply to emphasize that it’s important-right now-to begin to practice the kind of personal reflection that allows you to view your employees in context. I once worked with a great consultant who said that when he’s evaluating an employee he considers their experience, their orientation to the business, their training needs, the work conditions-in other words, he considers just about everything before he concludes that the person is really the problem. This analysis, he told me, gives him the confidence that he is not blaming someone for problems well beyond
their control. And if the person really is the problem, then he goes ahead and asks the person to give their view of what’s interfering with his/her work performance.
One other thing to keep in mind is that most of us want to do a great job, and to learn and grow in whatever position we take on. Feedback can be a wonderful source of learning.
Rebecca, you’re paying attention to how you’re handling a role that I think requires a great deal of skill, patience, empathy, and self-awareness. Reflecting on our experiences-good and bad-is the best way to learn, just as you’re doing now. It’s challenging, but don’t throw in the towel yet!

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