Ron McMillan is coauthor of four New York Times bestsellers, Change Anything, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, and Influencer.
Dear Crucial Skills,
Recently, my teenage daughter got her first “real” job as a dog washer at a pet store. She has been deliriously happy with the job and has worked very conscientiously at it (as far as I can tell). However, last weekend, she was reprimanded by her manager. A customer complained about two dogs she had washed saying they had never looked so terrible. The manager told her she needed to do better and take her job more seriously.
My daughter was very upset. She says she has no idea how she could improve because nobody looks over the dogs after she finishes washing them to give her feedback.
After giving her a hug and telling her that first jobs are about learning, I suggested she find a way to talk to the manager and ask for help in doing the job better. Of course, at 17, this sounds just IMPOSSIBLE. All she wants to do now is avoid the manager. However, I’d like to help her figure out a way to address this and learn—not just for this job, but for her life in general. Any advice?
Let’s begin with the principle of stewardship. It is the duty of anyone who is responsible for another person’s performance to give frequent and specific feedback. And likewise, every person who reports to a manager has the right to receive regular and frequent feedback regarding their performance.
This is a good starting point for your daughter. She should understand that requesting feedback from her boss is neither unusual nor out-of-bounds. In fact, making the request for feedback is being both reasonable and responsible. She has no reason to be embarrassed or apologetic—even if she is a teenager making this request from an adult.
So, how should she begin? Though not always necessary, asking for permission to discuss her request will demonstrate respect for her boss. For example: “Excuse me, Mrs. Taylor, could I talk to you about my job? Is now a good time?” If it’s not a good time, ask the manager when a good time would be and set an appointment. If this is a good time, suggest a place to talk where you won’t have an audience and then continue.
Share your good intentions. Your daughter should begin by disclosing her motive and aspiration or, in other words, by sharing her good intentions. This simple skill not only sets the agenda for the crucial conversation, it also creates mutual purpose and helps make it safe for both parties. She should simply share what she really wants regarding her work. Have her try something like: “Mrs. Taylor, I love working here at Pet Groomers and I want to do the best job I can possibly do. I want you to be pleased with my work and I want our customers to be happy with how I serve them.” This statement certainly identifies a purpose the boss cares about—quality customer service.
Ask for specific feedback. Next, your daughter should ask for what she wants, which is feedback from her boss. Now, remember her boss gave her feedback earlier about “taking her job more seriously.” The problem with that feedback is that it is not only useless, it is also punitive. What is she supposed to do, starting tomorrow morning, to “take her job more seriously”? How will that solve the customer’s complaint? When your daughter makes her request, she should specify what would help her most. “Would you share with me specifically what you see me as doing well, and what things I should work on improving?”
Listen. Next, she should listen well to understand what she should change or modify. If any of the boss’s comments are vague or fall into the category of conclusions or accusations, your daughter should ask for clarification and examples. “When you say I should be more serious about my job, what would you want me to do differently? What should I stop doing? What should I start doing?”
Follow up. Often, a boss will give generalized feedback because he or she has no direct experience with the employee’s work. Your daughter might ask: “Would you be willing to watch me wash the next three dogs or come look them over when I’m done so I know exactly what I can improve?”
As she works to incorporate helpful feedback, she should invite the boss to evaluate her washing job for the next several days—allowing her to easily analyze and adjust. This helps assure that her efforts to improve are paying off and that the boss will see improvement.
To build your daughter’s ability to do well and boost her confidence, I would recommend role playing. Play with the script. Find the words that are comfortable and natural. Practice responding to the different directions the conversation might realistically take.
Utilizing these skills and approach will help your daughter be more successful in her first job. However, when polished, these skills will also become lifelong skills that will help her in her future career and relationships.
All the best,