Continuous feedback is part of performance management. We know many leaders are dedicated to growing and nurturing their employees. But for the average person, feedback is really hard to give and to receive well. What steps can you take to improve employee engagement in feedback? How can you deliver your message better? In this blog, we’ve collected a few helpful resources to get you a little closer to your best feedback.
1) Recognize possibility - No one sets out to fail at work. But when situations go south, it is human nature to judge others based on character, and ourselves based on the circumstances. In the article, A Better Way to Deliver Bad News, Jean-Francois Manzoni explains that managers have the best intentions when talking to their employees, but often present a problem to an employee in a narrow and binary framework. Narrow framing means there is one answer - alternative versions or results aren’t considered or solicited. Binary framing means that at the end of the conversation, someone has to win or lose - which really means you both lose. Approaching conversations with a “possibility” mindset means you don’t have an answer or an outcome in mind. Ask questions that you don’t know the answer to, like: “tell me more about this.” It will help the employee see you want to have an honest conversation, and will give you both an opportunity to listen and partner on a solution.
2) Recognize a switch track - Sheila Heen, author of Thanks for the Feedback: The Art and Science of Receiving Feedback Well talked about “switchtracking” with Shankar Vedantam on the NPR podcast, The Hidden Brain. Heen explains that “switchtracking” is named for the part of train tracks where the track can switch to a new course at the flip of a switch. In feedback, it occurs when one person gives feedback, and rather than respond directly, the receiver switches topics to one they feel is more important. Sometimes without either party realizing, the conversation becomes about two or more topics, causing each party to dig in their heels.“They just get further and further apart ... And they don't even realize that they're going in different directions." It is important here to gently acknowledge the switch - and keep the conversation from getting derailed.
3) Recognize the baseline - We’re all hardwired with some level of happiness. The way we’re wired makes a difference in how we give and receive feedback. Sheila Heen makes another appearance on this top tips list (because she’s just that good). In this video, she discusses three factors that influence feedback. The first variable is baseline - how happy or unhappy are you independent of other factors? The second is swing - how far does feedback knock you from your baseline? The third is time - how long does it take you to come back to your baseline? Understanding these variables can really help both the person giving feedback and the person receiving feedback to understand each other. The person giving the feedback could have a moderate baseline, deliver feedback he or she feels is straightforward and not understand why the person getting the feedback is getting bent out of shape...meanwhile the person getting the feedback is experiencing a serious swing from their already low baseline. Here, both parties are experiencing the same conversation in two very different ways. Neither is wrong - but understanding the differences will help bring both parties together.
4) Recognize small things - In a short and humorous TED talk, Drew Dudley challenges the way we define leadership. Rather than standing immobile before paeans of unachievable greatness, he challenges us to honor the power of small moments. He calls it “everyday leadership.” In six minutes, Dudley shares a moving personal story to reinforce how much small kindnesses can change lives...and exhorts us to tell the people in our lives about the big changes they inspired in us.
Being willing to show up is the first important step toward employee engagement. The self-awareness to recognize ways which both parties can elevate or derail the discussion is what sets great leaders apart.
Read our recent edition of Changing Times that looks at performance management trends you can’t afford to ignore.
From the archives: Emotional Intelligence: Leadership Lessons from the Movie ‘Lincoln’