As an organizational leader you have a lot on your shoulders. You are expected to produce the results that your board or superior expects, but you also have a responsibility to the people who create those results.
The manner in which you communicate with them can have a huge impact on those results, on whether they trend upwards or downwards over time, and how quickly those changes develop. I want to offer a framework that will help foster exceptional communication within your team, especially when it comes to giving feedback.
The bedrock for this and all good communication is honesty. Establishing a baseline culture of honesty will ensure that everyone is taken at face value when they communicate something. One company I work with has an “open mouth” policy wherein employees are required to voice their opinion if they disagree with something and no topic of conversation is deemed inappropriate for work. Studies show that communication happens more effectively in environments where there is a baseline culture of honesty. The more effective a leader is at providing honest feedback, the more engaged the team becomes.
The second thing is offering positive feedback. The most accurate and honest feedback in the world will only have negative consequences for the group and the individual if it is delivered in a nasty, insensitive way. At some point early in our adult lives, we jettisoned the attitude of “if you don’t have anything nice to say…” and attributed this kind of idea as a way of communication for children only. While it’s not so cut and dry as that, our primary goal here is not to avoid conflict but to stimulate growth. By pointing out only the errors of a certain person or situation, you place the focus in the past. Most people will not be able to easily transfer negative feedback into a positive action going forward. Instead, by acknowledging the shortcomings and focusing on areas of potential improvement, we can offer what Marshall Goldsmith calls “feedforward”.
This attitude also ensures that you are not immune to mistakes and criticism yourself. Being dedicated to a culture where communication is open helps change the negative perception of feedback itself. “Can I see you in my office,” is a phrase that might send shudders down many a spine, but it really shouldn’t be that way. Team success is gained through individual success and encouragement. Make a strong effort to show your team that feedback is a way to improve the way the gears click and whir, and that contrary to tearing them down, you are very interested in and committed to helping them achieve their best self.
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