How to give feedback

Leader-managers owe it to employees to let them know their contributions are appreciated and how they could contribute even more effectively. No doubt you agree.

But do you get hung up on the word ‘feedback’? Don’t. Banish it from your mind and replace it with the word ‘information’. That way, you aren’t thinking ‘complaints’ and ‘criticisms’ but ‘insights’ offered in a caring, helpful way. Caring, helpful insights are indispensable to healthy workplaces and work teams.

This means banishing negative general comments and body language that implies ‘Oh, no – not you again’. Sarcasm, rolling your eyes, ignoring people or their efforts, and even heavy ‘hints’ fall into this category. It also means banishing telling people they’ve done something ‘wrong’ without explaining how to do it ‘right’.

Instead, motivate and lift people’s spirits with positive general comments that show you’re glad to be working with them. When you want to make sure what you’re commenting on is repeated, be specific – say what you appreciate and why you appreciate it. That builds and maintains first-rate performance.

When you want to help someone contribute more effectively, be constructive. Provide practical information that can help the person lift their performance.

So here’s your challenge for this week: Tell each of your team members something that you appreciate about the way they work and contribute. In a different conversation, show them how they could tackle a task to achieve a more effective outcome. (To find out why to separate your positive and constructive comments, see my blog Why the ‘sandwich technique’ for feedback doesn’t work.)

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How to deal with personality ‘issues’

The other day, a friend rang wanting to chat through an ‘issue’ she has with one of her team members. ‘I try not to let it’, she said, ‘but her constant, slow shuffle to the cafe bar gets on my nerves. She doesn’t have much to say for herself, either, and I’m the sort of team leader who likes to chat things through. Maybe it’s a generation thing; she’s a bit older than me and I’ve read that older workers aren’t as ‘teamy’ and ‘chatty’ as people my age. She’s hard to manage; it’s a personality thing, I guess.’
So I asked what her work quality was like and it seems it’s fine. She meets all her targets and the others in the team seem to like and respect her. In fact, they often go to her for advice and help when they need it.
That answer brought me to my next question: How would – let’s call her ‘Jane’ – describe this behaviour of hers, the trips to the cafe bar and her quietness? That’s always a good question to ask because it’s unlikely people describe their behaviour in the same way you do, and the answer always puts another slant on the issue.
And the third question: Is the issue worth making a song and dance over? My friend decided it wasn’t.
In summary, here are the first three questions to ask yourself when someone irritates you:
1. How is their work?
2. How would they describe their behaviour?
3. Is it worth addressing?
And when you’re ready, here’s the fourth question:
4. Is this annoying behaviour telling you something about yourself?
This question helps you look into your mental mirror. What we ‘see’ in others (or think we see) is often a reflection of ourselves. As someone once told me, when you ‘point the finger’ at someone, there’s another three fingers pointing back at you. Psychologists call this projection. We do it whenever we attach a characteristic to another person that really belongs to us.
These might be qualities we don’t want to own up to, negative things, like ‘He’s selfish’, or ‘She’s inconsiderate’. Rather than acknowledge we are like this ourselves, it’s easier on the ego to point the finger at someone else.
(We can project our own positive qualities onto other people too. Perhaps we don’t want to boast about them or more likely, we don’t even realise we have them. So we shift them over to someone else.)
Well, my friend drinks tea, not coffee, and likes to chat, so no, ‘Jane’ wasn’t reminding her of something about herself she didn’t like. Ah, but come to think about it …
Long story short, ‘Jane’ reminded my friend about someone in her past that she didn’t like at all, a ‘horrible’ aunt who was really mean to her when she was a child. That was what was causing the ‘issue’. My friend was sorely tempted to deal with ‘Jane’ the way she would have liked to have dealt with her nasty aunt. Once my friend realised that, the ‘issue’ evaporated.
The next time you seem to have a personality clash of some sort, think about whether your description of the other person says more about yourself or someone else in your life, than it says about them.
These are four powerful questions to work through when one of your team members or a colleague annoys you and you need to decide whether the ‘issue’ is worth addressing.

The gender pay gap that doesn’t go away

For every dollar Australian men earn, Australian women earn a whopping 83 cents – more than 20 per cent less than men. Why is that? Gee, could it be because men mostly set the salaries, do you think? And because it’s been that way for so long, it seems normal? Hmmm.
Of course, there is still extensive occupational segregation, with women clustered in lower-paid ‘women’s work’ jobs but that ‘reason’ doesn’t hold water. When we stack ‘women’s work’ up against ‘men’s work’ that requires similar education, experience, knowledge etc. etc. levels, the pay gap remains. We’re just paying women less than men for doing equivalent work.
Here’s a short (under 3 minutes) and very cute video that shows how capuchin monkeys feel about inequality of rewards for equal work. You will probably laugh out loud, so take care where and when you watch it!
Have you watched it? Good. Hands up if you would feel like rattling your cage if the person in the next cubicle earned more for doing the exact same or an equivalent job as you. Is that why a lot of organisations aren’t transparent about salaries and instruct staff not to discuss what they earn? Hmmm.
But it would pay Australian organisations, as well as the Australian economy, to divy up.
Business Insider examined the gender pay gap in relation to productivity over a 27-year period and found that the effect is negative; unequal pay, lower productivity. Organisations may save a bit of money but they lose more in terms of productivity. Halving the gender pay gap could increase productivity by 3% and eliminating the gap altogether would increase productivity by 5.7%.
It’s a no-brainer, really. When you pay fairly, it’s easier to attract and retain the people you need.
The arguments for social justice and pay equality have failed over nearly five decades. Maybe the argument for productivity and greater profits will do the trick.

The blame game

You’ve probably seen the diagram of a small circle, labelled ‘Things you can control’ with a larger circle around it, labelled ‘Things you can affect’ and a much larger circle around that, labelled ‘Things you can neither control nor affect’. That huge outer circle includes things like the weather and the economy. In the ‘Things you can affect’ circle are matters like your family’s happiness and the results you get at work. In the ‘Things you can control’ circle is basically yourself: your behaviour and your attitude.

That diagram of three circles leads us to Denial, Blame, Excuses and Responsibility. So imagine this: You’ve had a hard day and you’ve finally made it home and are sitting comfortably with your feet up, trying to chill out. The kids are in the kitchen and you hear a crash, tinkle, tinkle. ‘What happened?’ you ask. And what’s the response? ‘Nothing!’ That’s Denial; something has clearly happened.

So you say, ‘Don’t tell me nothing! I heard something break!’ And you hear ‘It wasn’t my fault, it was his fault.’ That’s Blame.

So you say, ‘I don’t care whose fault it is–what happened?’ And you hear, ‘The bottle was slippery and it fell out of my hand.’ That’s an Excuse.

Wouldn’t it be nice to hear, ‘I dropped a bottle. I’m just getting a mop to clean it up.’ That’s taking Responsibility.

Quite a few adults have turned Denial, Blame and Excuse into something of an art form, which means they focus not on the little inner circle of Control, but on the big outer circle of No Control. So nothing changes.

Let’s take a look at the first refuge or the irresponsible: Blame. Someone slips on the pavement. Do they blame the council for not sweeping up fallen leaves or do they take responsibility for not taking care how they’re walking? Blame is a great defence mechanism. It preserves your sense of self-esteem by avoiding admitting to your own shortcomings. But you’ll keep slipping on leaves.

Someone leaves the sausages in the frying pan too long and they burn. Do they take responsibility for being distracted or do they blame their partner for not doing their share of the housework so they have to multitask. Blaming others is great when you’re in attack mode. And it’s great when it’s easier to blame someone else rather than accept responsibility. But you’ll just start an argument and keep burning the sausages.

Blame is also handy when you think you can lie and get away with it. ‘I didn’t drop the bottle and leave the mess behind.’ Then you cross your fingers and hope no one saw you drop the bottle.

Of course, not everything is our responsibility. But when it is, we need to step up to it. The more we play the blame game, the more we lose. And the less we learn.

Managers, team leaders and parents take note: Step up when you need to. And teach your team members and your children to step up, too.

Holding a difficult conversation

Wasting your breath, harming a relationship, fraying your own and other people’s tempers and nerves unnecessarily … Ah, those difficult conversations that we’d all rather do without.

Unfortunately, good intentions don’t count when difficult conversations are involved. So that the discussion doesn’t start off on the wrong foot and go downhill from there, give some thought to the conversation beforehand. These four questions are especially helpful:

  1. What do I want the conversation to achieve and how do I want it to proceed?
  2. What, specifically, do I need the other person to understand and do as a result?
  3. How can I make my message palatable so the other person doesn’t tune out?
  4. How do I want the person to feel about me and my message once the conversation has ended?

When you are clear on those four questions, you can frame the discussion so that it proceeds cooperatively rather than confrontationally. Since the way you begin a conversation often determines how well people receive and accept your message, think carefully about your opening comments. You want them to guide the conversation towards the result you’re after.

Remember the WIFM factor (What’s In it For Me? factor) and include a WIFM as early as you can in the conversation, even in your opening comments. How will the other person benefit from acceding to your wishes?

Keep your words neutral, objective and positive. Those kind of words are more influential and persuasive than emotional, critical and negatively-loaded words and are much less likely to make the other person bristle. They also set a better ‘tone’ for the conversation.

One final word of advice: Without diminishing your meaning, keep your words as soft and sweet as you can in case you have to eat them!

 

How to be a peak performer

When I was heavily into designing and leading management training programs for lots of organisations around Australia and New Zealand, I got to know thousands of managers. It became pretty clear that the star performers all shared similar attitudes and mindsets towards their jobs and life in general. And I developed a theory about the ways their minds worked.

I took my theory to a cross section of these organisations who agreed to identify their peak performers objectively, based on their results, and I interviewed them individually and in small groups to pick their brains about how they thought. The goal was to train other managers to think and behave like the peak performers so that they, too, could become ‘stars’.

As expected, we found that the peak performers all shared remarkably similar ways of looking at the world. Here are the highlights, in no particular order because they’re all inter-linked.

  • Peak performers have high standards and expect the best for themselves, from themselves and from those around them. That attitude reminds me of a sign that hung in every classroom of my high school: Mediocrity is a choice — so is excellence. Peak performers opt for excellence and don’t settle for second best. Why should they?
  • Those high standards mean they set challenging goals and keep moving towards them.
  • Their high standards also mean that they constantly strive to improve themselves, the way they work and the results they’re getting. Peak performers are always looking for different and better ways. One way they do that is by reviewing the day’s events and selecting one to pick apart — what went well, what could have gone better, how can I do even better next time? Then, when they come across a similar situation, they can put their improvement plan into practice. (Find out more about that here.)
  • This leads to another characteristic of peak performers: they take responsibility. They work out what they need to do in order to accomplish their goals. They don’t sit back and wait for the magic to happen; they get out there and do something in a proactive way. And when things don’t go as well as they’d hoped, they don’t blame circumstances, the economy, the weather, other people or anything else. They take a look at what happened and figure out what they can do to make things better.
  • Peak performers deal with mistakes differently than ‘also-rans’, too. When peak performers make a mistake, they don’t deny they’ve made a mistake, bury it, blame someone else or make excuses. Nothing changes when you do that. Peak performers see the mistake as a practice shot, move on and try something different. Soichera Honda famously said that success is 99% failure, which may be a bit of an exaggeration, but it makes a good point.
  • Peak performers focus their efforts where they’ll count. No one can fix the weather or the economy but when an El Ninio is predicted, peak performing farmers might plant crops that don’t need as much water, put in a more efficient watering system or build a grey water irrigation facility. When the economy goes south, peak performing sales people might figure out ways to sell more to existing customers, pick up new customers or help develop new and improved offerings.
  • Linked with that is focusing not on their difficulties and the obstacles in their path but on what they can do to circumvent them jump over them or work their way through them. They can do this because they keep their eyes on the goal, not what’s getting in their way.
  • Finally, peak performers communicate and work effectively with others. The world of work is changing dramatically and important as this ability has always been, it is becoming ever-more important as work is becoming increasingly team-based and temporary. This means managers (and team members) need to be able to work well with a wide range of people in different situations and work out quickly what specifically they need to do in order to add value.

How many of those mindsets do you share? What about your team members? What can you do to help them adopt those ways of thinking and acting so that you have an entire team of peak performers?

Two all-important three-letter words

There is a three-letter word that creates arguments and another that creates cooperation. The first is ‘but’ and the second is ‘and’. Who would think one small, simple word has the power to damage relationships and spoil conversations, and the other to make them more satisfying and effective?

‘That’s a good effort, but …’                                 ‘That looks fine, but …’
‘You did a good job, but …’                                  ‘I can tell you tried, but …’
‘I take your point, but …’                                       ‘We’ve received your order, but …’
‘I understand what you’re saying, but …’               ‘That’s one option, but …’

Do you see? When you hear the word ‘but’, you know bad news is coming. The ‘but’ butts away the positive information preceding it. It’s a verbal hammer that signals disagreement.

Are you thinking of substituting ‘but’ with ‘however’? Forget it. ‘However’ is just a three-syllable version of ‘but’ and sends the same signals.

Substitute ‘but’ with ‘and’.

‘That’s a good effort, and …’                                 ‘That looks fine, and …’
‘You did a good job, and …’                                  ‘I can tell you tried, and …’
‘I take your point, and …’                                       ‘We’ve received your order, and …’
‘I understand what you’re saying, and …’               ‘That’s one option, and …’

Hear the difference? ‘But’ blocks.  ‘And’ builds. With ‘and’, you’re working with people, not pushing against them. ‘And’ allows you to offer an improvement suggestion while acknowledging the good job that has been done.

‘That’s a good effort, and something else you could try is …’
‘That looks fine, and one way to enhance it might be to …’
‘You did a good job, and it would be fantastic if you could also …’
‘I can tell you tried, and you’ve made good progress. One thing for next time is …’

‘And’ also shows you’ve listened and heard.  It helps prevent arguments because it allows two points of view to stand and acknowledges and extends what the other person has said.

‘I take your point, and another thing we could consider is …’
‘We’ve received your order, and in order to process it, I just need …’
‘I understand what you’re saying, and here’s another way to look at it.’
‘That’s one option, and another might be …’

 

Substituting ‘but’ with ‘and’ can be a hard habit to break, at least it was for me, but it was well worth it. Communication becomes much more cooperative. It also becomes much more clear without muddying the waters with the mixed message ‘but’ sends.

One more thing: Much of the time, you can simply substitute ‘and’ for ‘but’. But (yes, here’s some slightly bad news) sometimes, you need to reconstruct the sentence and make your point differently. When that happens, the reworded statement is invariably stronger, more cooperative and more effective than the original version. And it’s definitely worth the effort when you want more agreements than arguments.