Honest conversations

As a leader-manager, you no doubt want to be open and honest with your team members. Here are some conversation starters.

Especially with new team members, contractors or temporary workers, and with team members whose performance is merely average, explain how you measure the success of their performance. What do they need to achieve? Which tasks are so important, and why, that they need to double check they’ve done them well? What specifically differentiates a star performer from a good performer in your eyes?

Make sure your criteria are measurable, time-gramed, achievable yet challenging and related to the department’s or organisation’s success measures. And make sure the job holder can easily track their success themselves — it’s silly to make people rely on you to tell them whether they’re doing a good job.

Have a frank discussion about the challenges the employee faces in their role. Maybe it’s interdepartmental politics or very tight budget constraints. Discuss how the employee can best deal with them and how you can help the employee work with them. Maybe it’s poorly organised work procedures. How can you streamline them or reduce backtracking and extra work? Maybe it’s lots of interruptions. What causes them? Can you remove or reduce them? It’s these sorts of issues that annoy and demotivate people, devalue their job and diminish their performance. Don’t let that happen.

Find out what the employee needs to be really happy in their work and from you, their leader-manager. Do they appreciate lots of feedback? Consultation? Cordial relationships with their teammates? Flexibility? A stable working environment Do what you can to provide it.

Explain what you most value about the employee and their performance. I once had a boss that found me positive, enthusiastic and smart. But I didn’t find that out until many years later. Shame; perhaps if he’d told me, I’d have stuck around longer!

Discuss how you see the employee’s future and how their job might change. Find out how they see their future and how they would like their job to change. Help them work out what they can do to prepare for the future so they can look forward to it and welcome it. (Remember, we’re talking about honest conversations, so no false hopes and no false timelines.)

People appreciate knowing where they stand. Do your team members know where they stand with you?

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Psssst! Did you hear …?

Do you know that people attribute what you say about others as your own characteristics? Yup. It’s official. In a series of studies reported in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, we become associated with the very traits we attribute to others. Moreover, those associations persist over time, even when there is no logical basis for them.

The implications are clear: to build effective working relationships, be careful what you say about others. Make your comments positive, not critical.

Building a culture of trust

Do you want to build a culture of trust in your team? Here are eight neuroscience-backed ways to do just that. The eight behaviours below  aren’t just common sense; they also release neurochemicals in peoples’ brains that build trust and other good things like engagement, job satisfaction, loyalty, motivation and productivity.

  1. Say thank you and show your appreciation. This works best just after someone reaches a goal or does something you want them to keep doing.
  2. Set clear and specific goals that are challenging, but make sure they’re achievable. This generates moderate stress that releases neurochemicals that help people focus and that strengthen social connections, helping people work well together.
  3. Let people work in their own way as much as possible. Knowing how to do a job and deciding how best to get on with it is motivating and promotes innovation. Bringing the team together to use the learning cycle in an after action review often leads to continuous improvement, too.
  4. When you can, let people select the projects they work on. That way, they work on what interests and inspires them most, leading to job satisfaction and high performance.
  5. Keep people informed about the organisation’s goals and strategies. Unless people know they’re working for an organisation that has its act together, their stress levels increase and their ability to work as a team deteriorates.
  6. Build relationships with your team and help them build relationships with each other. They don’t all need to be best friends, but they need to know each other as individuals to work well together and they need to care enough about each other that they don’t want to let their teammates down.
  7. Help team members develop personally and professionally. The best performers are well-rounded people, so show consideration for their work-life balance or work-life blending and don’t work people so hard that they have no time for personal rest, recreation and reflection.
  8. Don’t pretend you know everything. Ask for help when you need it; it’s a sign of a secure leader whose main aim is to perform well and help their team perform well.

As you can see, these eight behaviours aren’t difficult or even particularly time consuming. You can find out more in the Jan-Feb 2017 Harvard Business Review in an article by Paul Zak called ‘The neuroscience of trust’.

What! You don’t agree with me?

When you see a discussion as an argument, that’s likely what you’ll have. Seeing it as a competition doesn’t get you very far, either – you’ll hold fast to your opinion and end up ignoring what the other person believes or wants.

The next time you sense a conflict or disagreement approaching, shift your thinking from ‘argument’ to ‘agreement’. How can we best reach agreement on this? How can we come to a shared understanding? What can I learn from this different perspective? What can I do so that we can work this out? That mindset opens the way to a productive conversation.

Once you’ve adjusted your mindset, set your sights on something you both want. That way, you’re not arguing but figuring out how to reach a shared goal. You’re not focusing on what’s coming between you — you’re on the same side. Sit next to, not opposite, the other person so you’re literally on the same side, too. And use the word ‘we’ a lot to show you’re in this together.

Effective communication begins inside, with your mindsets.

Three cornerstones of successful communication

Who are the leader-managers you admire most? Chances are, they excel at communication. Chances are, they have a knack of getting on with people and winning their cooperation. Chances are they shine at three cornerstones of successful communication.

The first cornerstone is really an attitude, or an approach to life and to people; the second two are the skill sets of gathering good information and of giving good information.

  1. Respect: respecting yourself and respecting others
  2. Gathering good information: this takes empathy, the ability to see situations from other points of view, not just your own. This makes you willing to listen and helps you understand the whats, whys and wherefores of other people’s thinking.
  3. Giving good information: what good is it to have an opinion, an idea, or some information if you can’t share it clearly with others?

Here’s your challenge: For the rest of the week, pay attention to three aspects of your communication:

  1. how respectfully you treat others and how respectfully you encourage others to treat you
  2. how carefully you listen to others and put yourself in their shoes so you can figure out where they’re coming from
  3. how clearly and succinctly you give information to others.

That will show you your strengths and where your opportunities to improve are.

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.)

The people you’re stuck with

Sometimes they’re family members. Sometimes they’re people you work with. Sometimes they’re neighbours. They’re the people you wouldn’t choose to spend time with, but you need to.

Worrying about them or even allowing yourself to be annoyed by them is a waste of time and mental energy. Far better to overcome your annoyances and learn to work professionally with them, even though you wouldn’t choose to socialise with them. Much better for your career, your job satisfaction and your job performance. Here are four tips:

  1. Don’t take their behaviour personally. Maybe they’re having a bad day or maybe they have worries at home. Provided they behave pretty much the same with everyone, understand it isn’t about you.
  2. Look for their strengths and good points. Everyone has them. Recognise and acknowledge their abilities and find ways to put their expertise to good use.
  3. Maintain your professionalism at all times. Communicate with them constructively, not angrily or sarcastically – don’t let them dictate your behaviour.
  4. Stay focused on your work goals and what you want to achieve. This takes your mind off how annoying they are and helps you get on with doing what you’re paid to do – your job.