Read the brief, true story below about Eric and his supervisor, Linda. Then decide: If you were in Linda’s role, would you handle the situation the same way?
Eric has just written his first newsletter article about an innovative approach the team has developed and used to get great results. The purpose of the article is to share the new approach with the entire company.
Eric is pleased with his first draft. He emails the piece to his supervisor, Linda, and to his six teammates for their feedback. He writes, “Feel free to suggest any tweaking or demand a rewrite.”
Linda reads the article immediately and likes it. The piece has nearly all the right content, and it is accurate and clear. Because Linda knows what the article needs to be “perfect,” she moves some of the last paragraph to the beginning, adds a catchy title, breaks up a long paragraph into several short ones, and corrects a few stylistic oddities. Then she emails it back to Eric and the others with this note:
Eric, thanks for writing this article. It will be wonderful to get the word out. I made some suggested edits in the text. Mainly, I wanted to let people know about our results at the very beginning, and I wanted to break up the text. Feel free to accept or reject these changes. Thanks!
Do you agree with the way Linda handled her feedback on Eric’s writing? What did she do right? Wrong?
Please post your thoughts in the comments. I’ll add my ideas after people have had a chance to share theirs.
Next-day update: This story comes from my guide Help Employees Write Better: A Guide for Managers, Trainers, and Others Who Care About Business Writing, which contains 60 solutions to employee writing problems. The guide is on sale through November 2019.
I think Linda took the wrong approach when she responded to Eric’s request. After all, he wrote, “Feel free to suggest any tweaking or demand a rewrite.” Here’s how I assessed the situation in Help Employees Write Better:
What Linda Did Wrong
- Linda revised Eric’s work when all he wanted was feedback. Her actions made it clear that she expected Eric to accept her changes.
- She sent her revision and note to everyone on the team.
- She neglected to tell Eric what he had done well.
- She missed a coaching opportunity.
Possible Negative Consequences
- Eric feels that the article is no longer his; now it’s his and his supervisor’s. He has lost the feeling of pride and ownership.
- Eric feels embarrassed because everyone on the team knows that Linda revised his document.
- Because of how she handled the situation, Linda has lost Eric’s trust. He doesn’t know what to expect from her.
- Because Eric didn’t get feedback on what he did well, he does not recognize his strengths.
- Because Linda has shown herself to be an editor rather than a coach, employees begin to send drafts to her. Rather than doing their best on a writing project, they think “I’ll get the basic idea down. Then Linda can fix it.” Linda has carved out a new responsibility for herself.