How Specific Should Verbal Warnings Be?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about warning details:

Should verbal warnings be specific?

Signed, Specifically interested

Dear Specifically interested:

All warnings, reprimands or other correction–as well as compliments, commendations other forms of praise–should be as specific as possible, so the employee knows exactly what needs to be changed or what is being praised. At the time of the warning, it is best to also provide an example of what should be done instead of the problematic thing. In that way the employee isn’t left wondering if the next thing he or she does will result in a sanction as well. That is a component that is often missing in supervisory correction.

Having said that, let me also point out that sometimes a warning incorporates several instances of a situation, so the supervisor wonders what to mention first. In those cases, it is appropriate to use a few sentences or a paragraph to describe a general concern: “Your conversation and style of communicating with coworkers is discourteous, uncivil, distracting and disruptive. This results in reduced effectiveness for the employees and for the office as a whole.”Then, some specific examples can be used.”

The following three examples are not the only times you have communicated in that way, but they can provide you with examples of the kind of behavior that you are being warned about.” If you are giving a verbal warning instead of a written warning, the same approach would work.A good book that has information about warnings in general is Discipline Without Punishment by Grote. He refers to them as “reminders.”The One Minute Manager concept by Blanchard and Johnson is also valuable for information about communicating to correct behavior or performance. I hope this is helpful to you.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.