By Roydon Gibbs

Are you making people feel dumb?

Picture this, you have just outlined to Pete, one of your team members, a project that you want him to lead. You have full confidence in his ability to complete the task.

You say to him, ‘Pete, I want to make sure you understand what I have asked you to do. Can you please explain in your own words the project I outlined.’

Asking Pete to repeat what he has just heard sounds like a sensible thing to do. It is important that you make sure he understands what he needs to do. You will be wanting to be positive and encouraging, but you could be doing the opposite.

Your question put the onus on Pete to prove that he understood you. In a situation like that Pete might feel you are doubting his ability, maybe even challenging his competency or testing him. Being put on the spot, he might begin to doubt himself. ‘Did I listen carefully enough? Can I explain it fully? What if I get it wrong?

The result is Pete’s sense of competence takes a dive and he does not perform as well as he could. Imagine if you had asked him this question in front of the team, the effect could be even greater.

There’s a better way - and it’s not just about being nice to Pete.

Self-Determination Theory (Deci & Ryan), backed up with a wealth of research, says that we all work at our best when three basic needs are being met. One of those needs is competence. If we feel able and confident in what we’re doing we flourish and perform well. Conversely, if our competence is thwarted with feelings of inadequacy or doubt we perform poorly.

How could you check that Pete understands what he needs to do without putting a dent in his sense of competence? The answer is simple, shift the onus of competence from Pete to yourself.

'Pete, I need to make sure that I have explained the project to you correctly. In your own words, could you outline what you think the project requires?'