Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Building Trust after Reprimand

A reprimand is one of the hardest situations that a leader ever has to deal with as it is always used as a last resort.  It is negative in nature, corrective in consequence and ever-lasting in effect.  It is difficult for the leader and for the one receiving the reprimand to move forward.  So what happens after the reprimand?  Do hard feelings persist?  Does awkwardness abound?  Is the organization affected? 

The answer to all of these questions is yes to some degree.  The ultimate purpose of a reprimand is to direct actions in the right direction.  It is designed to help the employee perform in a way that benefits himself and the organization.  But there is always this disconnect, a chasm of mistrust.

There are times when reprimands result in a change in behavior.  And when reprimands are effective, leaders can rebuild trust with the employee.  Other times, the behaviors don't change, so trust is difficult to reestablish.  So how can leaders cultivate a productive working relationship with employees that struggle with being written up?

Here are ways that leaders can build trust after a reprimand.

Wait Time

A reprimand is a painful experience and emotions run high afterwards.  Allow time for both you and the employee to return to normal and get back into a work routine.  Just getting back to work provides an eventual open door to reestablish communication.

Personal Conversation

Leaders move to talking about work and don't check in with the employee on their personal life.  Asking about their family, how their weekend was or their feelings on a current event conveys interest in the person.  It breaks down barriers and allows the employee to see the leader in a different light.


People need to hear that they are moving in the right direction.  Affirmation is the critical component of constructive criticism.  Acknowledging the current reality coupled with gauging improvement towards the target is necessary if the employee is going to feel comfortable trusting in the leader.

Positive Feedback

We all grow with praise.  Leaders must realize that celebration through positive feedback is critical if the employee is every going to reach your expectations.  The praise may not be directly related to the target of your expectation, but everyone does something well.  Let them hear about it.


Nothing breaks the ice better than a good sense of humor.  Showing your humor regularly communicates your humanity and your heart.  The best leaders use their humor wisely and purposefully to make sure all employees see them as approachable and ultimately trustworthy.

When we were corrected as children and as students, we felt attacked, guilty or less than worthy.  We all are hard-wired from childhood to react this way as adults, even if we acknowledge that the reprimand is correct.  Leaders can bridge the divide so that employees can overcome a reprimand and get to the real purpose of  reprimand and that is growth...

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