Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

When It’s Time To Correct and Control, Don’t Hint

If you are responsible for stopping incorrect, inappropriate or problematic behavior or performance at work, the easiest way to do your job is to speak to the employee directly, courteously and unequivocally. Say what is happening now, what is required instead, and what action you will take if the unacceptable behavior or performance occurs again.

Ironically, many supervisors think it will make things easier if they soften their statements by laughing, joking, hinting or talking around the subject. Then, the supervisor is surprised when the employee continues to do the wrong thing.  It may be because the employee doesn’t fully understand what he or she is expected to do or not do in the future. Or, the employee may not realize how serious you were about it, or figures you won’t have the courage to take more serious action.

Another side effect is a loss of respect by everyone who sees the situation. What message does it send about you, if managers, other supervisors and other employees, observe someone behaving or performing incorrectly, and knows that you are either unable or unwilling to control it or stop it?  

Your approach will vary a bit based on your work situation, how long you have known the employee and other circumstances, but your remarks should be direct and absolute, as well as friendly and courteous and with a tone of positive expectations. 

Words and phrases that are not effective: 
“It’s no big deal, but………..”
“I don’t really mind, but some other people have said something about it……”
“Could you sort of not do that so much?” 
“If you just try to do better, that’s all I can ask.”
“Watch that in the future, OK? ”

Words and phrases that get your point across:
“Don’t do that again.” (Or a variation of that concept.)
“Stop.” (“Stop it, now.” “OK. That’s enough. Stop it.”)
“That is a direct violation of our policies. Don’t ever do that again.”
“Your actions are disrupting work for other people. You have to stop doing that right now.”
“If you do that again you’ll get a disciplinary write up.”
“This quality of work isn’t acceptable.”
“What will you do the next time this situation happens?”


Words and phrases that give support as well as providing correction:
“I know that this isn’t like you and I’m confident we’ll never have this situation again.”
“I’m looking at this as a learning time. Now you know, so you won’t do it again.”
“Your attitude about it this has been great and that means a lot to me. I know you’ll do the right thing from now on and I think you still feel good about the job and working with me.”
“You know not to do that again and I know you want to do the right thing. That’s all that needs to be said about it.”
“I can tell you’re upset about it right now, but I’m confident you’ll get through it.”

If there have been chronic problems you should be more forceful to ensure that the employee understands how serious you are. Do not warn that something will happen if you know it is likely not going to occur. Use your supervisory leadership and influence in a positive way to ensure that behavior or performance is corrected.

The bottom line for your effectiveness: Stop hinting, cajoling, suggesting and pleading for an employee to correct wrong behavior or performance.  Say what you mean, directly and clearly and get it over with. Don’t over-talk the subject, unless the situation is complex (and it almost never is!). Ask the employee to say back what he or she understands. Have a demeanor that shows you are concerned. Then, watch the situation to make sure the behavior or performance is corrected right away.

Do your job effectively!

November 21st, 2008 Posted by | Challenging and Problematic People, Supervision and Management | 6 comments


  1. Tina,

    Excellent advice. It is amazing how easy it can be to see the truth of how we as supervisors should be doing our job.


    Comment by Michael | November 23, 2008

  2. Tina says: Thanks, Michael…I really value your comments! On the outside looking into someone ELSE’S situation it seems much easier to see how it should be done! I wish I had done many things differently.

    Thanks for your thoughts!

    Comment by TLR | November 23, 2008

  3. Sigh! I hint too much and no one takes me seriously anymore. I’m going to start reading here. Thanks.

    Comment by Trying My Best | November 23, 2008

  4. Tina says: I’ve written you a note by email, TMB! You can be effective as a supervisor, but still a very nice person, and I hope you will allow yourself to do that. It’s much better feeling to know that people DO take you seriously!
    Best wishes, and thanks for the comment.

    Comment by TLR | November 23, 2008

  5. Why oh why doesn’t my boss realize this??? We have two people who have been breaking the rules for a year while the rest of us do it right. He tells us that they’ll get theirs sometime. OMG it is SOOOOO frustrating!

    Comment by Frustrated | November 23, 2008

  6. Tina says: Hello Frustrated….thank you for your frustrated comments! 🙂 I don’t know how far you want to take this, or how severe the violation is, or what impact it has on your work or the effectiveness of the organization. However, if it seems important enough to you, consider writing a courteous email to your boss and say that the inequity in rules enforcement is unfair and you would like a clarification of why there are two sets of standards about the rules.

    Or, the next time the employees violate a rule that others are obeying, immediately go to your boss and ask why it is being allowed. Or, talk to the employees and ask them why they are breaking a rule that the rest of you are following.

    I don’t suggest that everyone else break the rules to make a point, but you could ask your boss what he would say if everyone did as those two people do.

    Whatever you decide to do, it seems you will have to force your boss to do his job. I don’t know how your company is organized, but if there are people above him, perhaps he just needs to feel that someone is so frustrated they might go over his head about it!

    Comment by TLR | November 23, 2008

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