We’ve all been there. We think to ourselves: “Why don’t they get it? Clearly they know their behaviors are irritating! They’re doing this just to get under my skin.”

Have you ever irritated someone, despite your better intentions? You meant to come across favorably, but somehow your actions weren’t well received. Of course, most of us have been on the opposite side of the fence too: irritated by someone else’s actions (or lack of them).

When someone irritates us, we think to ourselves: “Why don’t they get it? Clearly they know their behavior is irritating. They’re doing this to get under my skin.”

Everyone has been on both sides of the coin. We’ve all been the person who unintentionally irritated someone; yet, we still buy into the story we tell ourselves about another person’s behavior. Once irritated, there’s little to no room for curiosity or seeking to understand.

Being irritated interrupts productivity, stifles collaboration, and takes from our energy, unless we have the tools needed to shift the conversation, and get something meaningful out of those who are irritating us.

Jim, the CEO of a medium-sized business, recently shared his frustration with me about an employee, Amy, who’d been working with him for years. Her most important responsibility was to get the financial statements to Jim at the end of each month.

Too nice to tell her the truth (that her job was on the line), and tired of getting the statements three months late, Jim hired Andrew to take over that responsibility, and shifted Amy to more of a supportive role.

After years of turning in subpar work, Amy was conditioned for mediocrity and (likely) clueless about her pending pink slip. Instead, Jim was hoping she would get the hint and start doing A+ work. Because of this, Jim is now dealing bigger issues where Amy is concerned:

“Now she’s hoarding information, and refusing to communicate with Andrew,” Jim told me. “At this point, I need to get rid of her.”

Curious, I asked, “Have you given her direct feedback about her performance?”

“Misti, she was submitting financial statements 3 months late,” Jim said.

He said those words almost as if she should know that’s unacceptable, even though it had clearly been acceptable for years.

When I asked him if he was direct and honest with her about her unacceptable results, Jim responded with, “She must know. I’ve lost my temper, and hired someone else to do that part of her job.”

“Right, but have you directly told Amy that you cannot run a business without timely reports? Have you let her know that if she cannot complete this work on time, you will need to find someone to replace her?”

“No, I didn’t exactly tell her that,” Jim said, with a palpable discomfort.

I wondered how on earth Amy was supposed to improve her performance if she didn’t even know her performance was that big of an issue.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Jim’s behaviors would have been plenty enough for me to know my job was on the line, but clearly Amy wasn’t getting it. And him skirting around the subject – rather than addressing it directly – is hazardous for the business and Amy.

It’s easy to think, “They should …,” and much more difficult to be honest, and do what you can to help them succeed before firing or replacing employees. Most people would rather know the full truth upfront, than to get blindsided later. And, if they know how to deliver a better result, they will— we all want to succeed.

So, here are some simple tips to help your team get better results:

  1. Ask Questions. How do you think you’re doing? What results would you like to be getting, and what’s getting in your way? Do you need training?
  2. Be Clear. Let them know what you expect to see, where specifically they are falling short, and then discuss what they need to do to bridge the gap.
  3. Listen. Are they telling you that they struggle with the work they’re doing, and need to find a different way to contribute to your team? Are they having personal challenges that are getting in the way? Listen for ways to help them remove barrier to their success – doing so will naturally add to yours.

Avoiding issues almost always leads to bigger ones. So take the bull by the horns, look for ways to help your team members succeed, and be honest with them about shortcomings.

Join The Conversation: Have you ever worked for someone who avoids telling you how to improve, and instead complains to everyone else? Or, worse yet, fires you before they give you a chance to improve? Write a comment below (or email me at mb@mistiburmeister.com) and let me know your story on how someone has irritated you and how you dealt with it!