“I’d like to give you some constructive feedback.”
Yikes. You know what? That sentence does not make me feel good. It makes me brace for what I’m about to hear. Like many people, it sends my brain into what neuroscientist David Rock calls a threat response.
This reaction is very common among us humans… and that includes the people you manage. Most people are not eager to hear so-called constructive feedback from their bosses. “Constructive,” a word that was once intended to connote the more positive aspects of feedback, is now a synonym for just plain “critical” in many people’s minds.
If you want your feedback to fall on open ears and have the positive impact on your employees’ performance that you’re looking for, there are two simple rules:
Rule #1: Don’t use the word constructive.
Rule #2: Don’t use the word feedback.
That’s right — don’t even utter the word feedback to your direct reports. You can think it to yourself silently if you’d like, and you can read it in this blog post, but just don’t say it out loud.
Successful influencers use several strategies to make it easy for people to say yes to them. Among other things, they think ahead and plan for why a decision maker might say no to a proposal, and they come into a pitch session ready to allay fears and concerns. But sometimes even the best influencers cannot predict exactly what a decision maker’s concerns or doubts will be, so they have to find out the old fashioned way — by asking.
Successful influencers use a combination of discovery questions and exploratory questions in a pitch session to draw out information, ideas, and concerns from the decision maker in order to take away doubt and uncertainty and clear the path for a yes. Here’s how they do it…
“Have you thought about doing it this way?” we might say to one of the people we manage. But what we really mean is: “I think you should do it this way.”
The “veiled suggestion.” We’ve all been guilty of it as leaders at some point in our careers — telling a direct report how to do something indirectly by posing it as a question.
No harm if this happens once in a while — but if posing suggestions in the guise of questions is an ongoing behavior a leader engages in with direct reports, something needs to change. Veiled suggestions do not get the best results from direct reports, and can contribute to performance problems.
Here’s an Example
Let’s say you’re a VP managing a team of directors, and a couple of them are new to their roles. And let’s say you’ve got your job nailed. You know what needs to be done. In fact, you could do the work of some of your newer directs in half the time that they could. You’re practicing patience as they grow in their roles, holding back the urge to simply tell people what to do.
Positive Psychology is “the scientific study of the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive.” The field holds some pretty significant values and beliefs, namely that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, we want to cultivate what is best within ourselves, and we want to enhance our experience of life overall (University of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology Center).
Small Acts Make a Big Difference
An element of Positive Psychology is finding activities that we can do on a regular basis that have been shown in study after study to contribute to overall well-being. Some of those things are daily rituals that we can establish for ourselves.
We all have reasons to set goals, both personal and professional, but we don’t always have a clear path to achieving those goals.
The Goal Grid is a user-friendly tool that can help get you there. Taking an example of a professional goal-setting situation, let’s say you’ve just had your performance review and you and your manager have talked about goals for the next 3, 6, 9 months or a year. Given that, you write up the list, which might look something like this:
Something people often forget to consider when planning an influence strategy are the reasons that decision makers might say no. There are several reasons decision makers deny requests no matter how compelling the pitch. Your job is to plan ahead for how to address these concerns so they don’t stand in the way of an otherwise great idea or proposal that you’d like to get the green light on.
Following are some of the common reasons decision makers reject influence attempts — and how you can plan for a “No” in order to get a “Yes.”
A work colleague has asked you several times to take on work to help him out. It’s often hard for you to say no to requests like these — you’re an individual who likes to be of service, and you say yes. The colleague always thanks you, so you feel appreciated. As time goes on, though, the colleague is getting more and more recognized by leadership for the work that you’re significantly contributing to.
You want to remain on good terms with this person because it’s important to the overall work of the group. And while he may not be consciously using you, you still feel like he’s taking advantage of your good nature.
What to Do
Take control of the situation, and do it with kindness.
1. The next time this colleague asks for your help, calmly tell him you’ve got a full plate. He might ask you what you’re doing that’s taking up so much of your time, and you might feel required to run down the list of your workload. Don’t. This could be a ploy to make you feel guilty for not dropping everything to assist. Whether or not he’s trying to make you feel guilty isn’t the issue here. Your time and being recognized for your contributions are the issues.
Be ready for this with, “Looks like you’ve got a lot going on. I do, too. Let’s go talk to the boss and see if she can move things around for both of us. That way I may be able to give you the help you’re looking for.” Assuming the colleague agrees to this, and he may not, this ensures that the boss will now know how you’re contributing, and you’ll have time to help without overloading yourself.
One of the main purposes of the 360 for leaders is to improve performance and leadership skills. Many companies use this third-party feedback mechanism for getting what’s considered a robust picture of their managers and leaders. But this tool can’t actually fulfill this mission because it lacks the specificity necessary to make feedback actionable.
When the reporting individual must remain nameless and when specific situations can’t be completely revealed because of the anonymity issue, the outcome is that the receiver spends wasted time trying to figure out what behavior to change with whom.
While useful information may be collected, the interpretation of what the feedback means and therefore what behavior, specifically, the manager or leader can change becomes difficult to discern.
What Ever Happened to Having Real Conversations?
Fear of confrontation, retribution, and a general lack of safety — that’s what.
What if we started on the road to doing things differently?
Your personal power is that engaging force that attracts people to your words, your ideas, and to you. That combination of assets includes your brand message, your leadership style, and your leadership and personal presence demonstrated in the way you walk, talk, and dress.
Along with knowledge power and relationship power, your personal power is internal and not dependent on organizational structure, climate, or leadership. Your personal power is yours to carry with you wherever you go.