No matter what level you occupy in an organization, giving and receiving feedback is the best tool for improving yourself and helping others develop. Whether we are catching people doing it “right” or catching them early in their mistakes to help them avoid bad habits, giving meaningful and effective feedback is an important component in keeping people engaged and getting the job done well. Curiously, leadership feedback, with all of its benefits, remains a point of contention even though it represents one of the most effective avenues of coaching leadership excellence.
Many leaders agree their ability to deliver meaningful feedback is critical to their success, yet few of us are any better at it than our first failed attempts. If we are too harsh, they feel threatened, react emotionally and don’t hear us. If we are too vague, they deflect the message. Worse yet, we may still be using the infamous “Crap Sandwich” model we were taught. Remember…start with something nice, tell them what they messed up, then finish with another compliment, with even less success. The result, frustration and then we wonder, “Why aren’t they listening?”
So Why Aren’t They Hearing You?
The question we should be asking is, “Why aren’t they listening to me?!” This may seem like semantics – not at all. Dr. Carl Rogers – the father of client-centered psychology, and many experts in the field of neuroscience, agree that a basic understanding of the psychology of feedback is necessary in order to deliver any behavioral observations. Once you begin practicing these powerful tools, it will help you “get your message heard!” With these approaches to leadership feedback, one can create positive change within their organization.
Be Supportive and Nonjudgmental
First and foremost, if you are going to change someone’s behavior, they are going to have to hear you. And not just the words you’re speaking but your message. Unfortunately, more often than not, our words and nonverbal cues show we already judged them as a bad just because they made a mistake, and there’s goes the key element of any positive relationship…trust. To be the “trusted source” – the person seen as having their best interest in mind and isn’t playing “I’m smarter than you” or “I’m better than you.” Instead, position yourself “More like a COACH – less like a judge!” With trust in the message, we still have to be mindful of our choice of words and delivery. This area is a leadership skill worth cultivating.
“Be Totally Honest & Totally Kind”
Allowing another person their dignity is the greatest gift we can give. Once you’ve hit “pause” on judging another’s intentions, focus your words on the behavior we want them to start doing by remembering to be T.H.T.K! Totally Honest, so they know WHAT you want them to change and Totally Kind so they trust you as someone who’s trying to help and they’ll let the words in. We all know when we’ve made a mistake. Most of us want to know what to do differently the next time we’re in the situation. Winning characteristics of a good leader embody authenticity.
Use the Prato Rule
Now that people are seeing us as a source that’s trying to help, the Prato Rule helps keep the overall relationship positive. The ratio research on 5.6 positive comments to each criticism has some merit but has recently come into question. The facts remain human ego is fragile. Our version of self is often filled with defense mechanisms and filters called Cognitive Dissonance. To overcome the human factor, keep it simple. To create and maintain a relationship open to coaching, focus 80% of your energy on what someone does well and 20% on what you would like to change. By not faking it, staying genuine and keeping the ratio right, you’ll have a better chance of keeping the lines of communication open.
SBI, is a popular framework that helps separate a person’s value as a human being from the behavior you want to adjust. Let’s face it, just because someone is not doing what we need them to do, does not make them a bad person. Our role is to help guide them toward the desired behavior. The best leadership development programs feature this approach. Watch a short video on SBI.
AND vs BUT
If we could all eliminate BUT from our vocabulary, it would add HUGE psychological value in our lives. “But” is the great eraser. Anything you said before ‘but’ is gone and the person is left to focus on only the bad message. Here’s an example we can hopefully relate to. Your child brings home a grade card with four ’A’s’ and a ’D’. Most parents would say something to the effect, “Nice job with the four ‘A’s’, but what happened?” Everything before the “but” is lost and the child only hears “what happened?” Replace “but” with “and” and now listen to the message: “Nice job with the four ‘A’s’, AND…with your natural intelligence and hard work next semester, I bet you can bring that ’D’ up!” Easier said than done, and with persistence and practice we can eliminate this costly conjunction.
Remember, the purpose of feedback is to establish and environment of highly engaged people focused on their contributions to organizational success. This means we should strive to be the trusted source they seek out for help. The dilemma then becomes how to focus your energy — and the person’s energy you’re trying to help — on the new behavior needed to eliminate the unwanted behavior. Seems simple enough…and it is, IF we understand the obstacles that prevent our folks from not only hearing our words, but actually receiving them in a positive way. This is the power found within leadership feedback tools. Find what works for you.
Author: Gary Murdock