Saturday, April 9, 2011

Giving constructive feedback - a key in great leadership

Let’s face it – giving and receiving feedback is something that we aren’t naturally good at. Whether at work or home, it might be easier to avoid, ignore or minimize but in the long term we cannot overlook persistent issues that need addressing in our relationships.

At work, how easy is it for you to give feedback to a direct report or team member on their negative behavior and or attitude? Some examples include – not keeping agreements, making cynical comments to suggestions in meetings, putting the company down, and the approach that “it’s always someone else’s fault.” These become a hindrance to good working relationships as well as being a potential career staller for the other party. How comfortable and safe do you feel in communicating your thoughts and feelings with those you work with closely, including your boss?
By not dealing with unacceptable behaviour, sooner or later, things do trigger us – words bubble out of our mouths in inappropriate ways and at most inopportune moments. I bet you can think of a time when this happened to you – as it has with most of us. And then it is too late – more harm has been done than perhaps ever intended.

For a relationship to be healthy and robust – differences need to be voiced, feelings heard and feedback pondered upon. However, when what is present in a relationship is not spoken of – it quickly becomes the “pink elephant”; ignored by both parties in a silent collusion, yet hugely invasive. This unspoken “stuff” will hinder trust and growth at both personal and professional levels.

As managers and leaders, giving feedback is a very important part of the job. And it has a significant bearing on performance outcomes, team morale and your organisation culture. What is negative and not dealt with festers, and becomes more toxic with time.

What can you do about it?

1) Engage in self-reflection and ask yourself what is stopping you. What is your self-talk and how is that reinforcing your barriers to giving constructive feedback? Is it about not making the time? Are you trying to please everybody? You don’t know how? It is easier for you to get on with tangible tasks than the more intangible feelings and emotions? Are you waiting for the performance review? It is worth remembering that a relationship or team is as good as the degree of openness, trust and flexibility in it.

2) Ask yourself - “What is the culture I am creating through what I am saying or not saying, how I am behaving – and the great SQ question – “who am I being?” ‘”What are the subtle messages I maybe reinforcing as to what is acceptable or not?” This is a very important question and worthy of quality reflection. A client had a considerable breakthrough when he realized how he, as a leader, was fostering a conflict avoidance culture and the impact of this role modeling on others. He was also depriving his people off the feedback they sorely needed to learn, develop and grow.

3) Create the right culture, context and process for team members to be able to do give each other feedback routinely and with care – then everyone wins! Research shows that managers lose credibility and respect when they don’t intervene and allow team members to continue with their discordant behaviour.

Work on building a culture where it is safe and okay to be open to discuss things. For instance, make time in meetings to “check in” and talk about where people are at and how things are going. Team members really value when senior people ask for feedback and talk honestly about things such as the interpersonal dynamics of client relationships.

So here’s your challenge:

Identify who you may need to have a conversation with. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes as part of this process, plan it, run it past a coach or trusted other. Then do it!

The SQ perspective is that feedback given sensitively and appropriately can be the ultimate gift – your team members need to feel that you care enough to tell it like it is.

Jasbindar Singh is a business psychologist, leadership coach, author and speaker who loves creating shifts for people. www.sqconsulting.co.nz

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