Great sports analogies focus on players and coaches but rarely on referees. Whether it's Thursday evening youth lacrosse or Sunday afternoon Premier League or NFL football, referees of all stripes (pun intended) get enormous amounts of immediate and overwhelmingly negative performance feedback. They have a lot to teach us about terrible feedback.
Referees are taught to ignore taunts from the sidelines but there are some circumstances that cannot be ignored. The 4Ps of Misconduct are guidelines about when a referee should directly address feedback from coaches, parents or players by issuing a warning for misconduct. They are: Public, Persistent, Personal and Profane.
- Public: feedback delivered in front of others
- Persistent: feedback delivered multiple times
- Personal: feedback about a person rather than a behavior
- Profane: feedback that is irreverent or offensive
A referee's decision to deliver a warning depends on the depth and breadth of these factors. Questioning whether the ref needs glasses is public but not persistent, personal or profane. However, continuing to question the referee's eyesight after every call may warrant intervention (perhaps more at the youth level than the professional level). Using profanity about the referee's mother even if only once would certainly be considered misconduct even without being persistent or public. In the end, a good referee will assess how extreme the feedback is and how many of the 4Ps are involved before making a decision to warn the offender.
Public, persistent, personal and profane feedback in the workplace is more common than we'd like. The 4Ps of Misconduct highlight terrible feedback in sports as well professional settings. But these same 4Ps can be translated into guidelines to help avoid terrible feedback:
- Non-Public: Was the feedback provided in a setting conducive for learning and development? This is more than just one-on-one but also at a time when the feedback is likely to be heard and understood.
- Non-Persistent: Was the feedback clear and specific about the root cause so that the behavior could be corrected? The goal is to provide feedback about the primary cause rather than just symptoms that can be internalized and acted on rather than requiring continuous feedback.
- Non-Personal: Was the feedback focused on the behavior rather than the person? People are not likely to change who they are but they can take responsibility for changing what they do so delivering feedback about an observed behavior is far more effective. For example, "Your attitude about your workload..." is very different from, "Your complaining about your workload..." One is about the person, the other about their behavior.
- Non-Profane: Was the feedback delivered in a way that conveys respect? Extreme and hyperbolic language often distracts people from hearing and internalizing feedback. Profanity doesn't always require bad language but any feedback delivered without fundamental respect for the person is profane and likely to be ineffective.