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Leaders, do you solicit and listen to negative feedback?

Woman With Sore FeetI’ve often blogged about how leaders can give negative feedback more effectively (including this post: Five things every leader should know about giving negative feedback).  But a recent event caused me to consider how good leaders are at soliciting and listening to negative feedback.

Only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches.

My dad used this phrase the other day, specifically to give a vendor negative feedback about unsatisfactory service.  My father had complained about the quality of the service he had received from one of the company’s staff members, and the supervisor-in-charge was arguing with him, questioning my dad’s account, and suggesting that what he had received was adequate.  My dad’s response was a succinct way of emphasizing that because he was the sole recipient of the service, he was the only one who could offer first-hand knowledge of whether the result was acceptable or not.  In other words, the person receiving the service is in the best position to offer feedback, both positive and negative!

This phrase got my attention, and not just because it was unusual.  Continue reading

Giving negative feedback? It is possible to do it and actually boost an employee’s spirit!

A few weeks ago, I gave you a short video clip about focusing on the problem rather than the person when giving negative feedback to your employees.  In this installment, I show you a way to criticize an employee while actually boosting the employee’s morale!  Watch the video below to find out how.

If giving negative feedback to your employees is something you struggle with, then be sure to also take another look at these past blog posts:

So, let’s have a conversation about how you manage this challenging aspect of your leadership role.  Share your approach to giving negative feedback with me and others on this blog.  Just click on the Comment link below.

Are your employees speaking up?

A short time ago, in a leadership session I was conducting at a client company, I raised the point that employees are the best source of intelligence when it comes to uncovering inefficient and ineffective processes in organizations.  That clearly struck a nerve, because several of the managers immediately jumped into the conversation.  “I’ve asked,” said one.  “Over and over again, but the team just doesn’t offer any input.  I know they are aware of what we could change for the better, but I can’t seem to get them to speak up.”  His comments were echoed repeatedly by the rest of the group.  In an attempt to get at the root cause of this reticence from employees, I asked them to take five minutes and write down their answers to this question:

“WHY do you think they’re not speaking up?”

Interestingly, once asked this blunt question, their responses were candidly honest.  And three responses, by far, were the most common:

  1. It’s not my job to raise the flag
  2. That’s the way it’s always been done
  3. There’s no point in saying anything, nothing ever changes

Not long after, they came to a very crucial conclusion.  It isn’t good enough to just ASK for input from your employees.  You also have to do two more things:

  1. You have to create an environment in which “doing the right thing for the organization” is everyone’s responsibility.
  2. You have to make a commitment to follow through and act on legitimate identified changes.

And these come from action – through being a role model, setting an example for everyone else to follow, and demonstrating that you will make changes as needed.

Are your employees speaking up when they observe inefficiency and ineffectiveness?  Why or why not?

What are others saying about your company or department?

As a leader, it’s important to find out what your customers and internal clients are saying about your company or department. Recently, I was very impressed with one CEO’s commitment to this essential leadership responsibility.

Last November, while on a short vacation in Hawaii, my husband and I took a helicopter tour of the island. Due to several problems the experience was very disappointing, and in many respects, the excursion was a total flop. When we asked for a refund, the staff declined. We objected, but to no avail. Rather than continue to argue, we chose instead to walk away and chalk it up to a bad experience; this despite the fact that the outing was not inexpensive. Before I closed the door on this incident though, I posted a detailed review (as I often do) of the trip on an online bulletin board. My hope was to help others avoid the same issues that we faced. Case closed. Imagine my surprise when I received an email in February from the CEO of the company asking me for further information about my situation. In fact, I was so taken aback that I initially thought it was spam, and deleted it. It was only a few days later that I reconsidered and wrote back. Over the next few weeks we dialogued via phone and email as the CEO sincerely tried to understand what went wrong. The ultimate outcome – he refunded our payment in full and asked for us to consider his company again when we visited the islands. Something that we most definitely plan to do on our next trip there!

By taking the trouble to find out what his customers were saying about his company, and then acting on what he found, this CEO created immense goodwill and set himself apart from his competition. All your stakeholders have valuable feedback to share with you about how your organization (or your department) is doing, and what you could be doing better. Are you finding a way to tap into this valuable mother lode of information?

Respond to negative criticism by fogging

Criticism is hard to take, and most people, leaders included, find themselves getting defensive when employees, co-workers, or even senior leaders censure them.  Unfortunately, as natural as a defensive response may be, it will still negatively affect your credibility and how you are perceived by others in the workplace.  Do it often enough and you may get an undeserved reputation as someone who cannot listen and positively act on feedback.  No matter what the circumstances, it’s worth mastering the very useful and versatile communication tool called “fogging.”  Fogging simply means to “stay cool”.  Imagine that one day, out on a walk, a thick fog descends and leaves you unsure of which way to turn.  You may be frustrated or angry, but there’s nothing that you can do to the fog to relieve your frustration.  Striking out at the fog, throwing stones at it, or even cursing it would leave the fog completely unaffected.  The language technique of fogging simply means training yourself to stay calm, “stay cool” in the face of criticism, and agree with whatever may be fair and useful in it.  Merely respond to the criticism with one of these phrases:

That could be true …

You’re probably right …

Sometimes I think so myself …

I agree …

That’s true …

You’re right …

You have a point there …

Implied in fogging (but never actually said) is “So what?”  The beauty of this language tool: by refusing to be provoked and upset by the criticism, you remove its destructive power.  By acknowledging the other person’s point of view, you don’t come across as defensive.  It`s true that fogging requires some self-control, but if you can master the technique, it can be devastatingly effective.  Write and tell me about your experience with fogging.

Giving constructive feedback to employees – one powerful tip

If you’re a supervisor, manager or team leader, then there will be times when you will have to give feedback to employees about things they haven’t done well, or could have done better.   And it’s not an easy task!  In fact, you’ve probably read or heard, or even been taught, that this type of feedback is better received if it’s prefaced first by something nice.  So you might say something like:

You did a really good job of organizing the meeting but the agendas were not distributed early enough.

The feedback you wanted to give was that the agendas were not distributed early enough; and you attempted to soften the message by saying “you did a really good job of organizing the meeting” first.  Unfortunately, if your goal was to get your employee to listen and act on the feedback, you probably failed.  You were unsuccessful because the word “but” is the equivalent of a verbal eraser.  Anything you said prior to the “but” was erased in the mind of the listener.  So you started off well when you said “you did a really good job of organizing the meeting”; but it was never heard because you followed it with the word “but”.  Instead, try:

You did a really good job of organizing the meeting.  Unfortunately the agendas were not distributed early enough”.

Butt out the BUT

Do you see the difference?  Period.  No “but”, no “however” (“however” = “but”).  Butt out the “butt”.

What other classic mistakes have to you encountered in giving (or receiving) negative feedback?

Good leaders respond to customer feedback

Three months ago, I blogged about Air Canada and its new CEO, Calin Rovinescu.  Back then, I was cautiously optimistic; after two previous CEOs, Rovinescu was a welcome breath of fresh air.  Unlike his predecessors, he actually seemed interested in what his most loyal customers had to say.  With his senior management team, he met with groups of individual frequent fliers in cities across the country to get their feedback and input on how to create a better air travel product.  I was at such a meeting in Calgary in September and I was impressed to see that his team listened, asked questions, took notes, and pledged to turn things around both for disillusioned customers and a disconnected workforce.  Big news indeed for a company that has unfortunately developed a reputation of taking its customers for granted!  So, three months later … has Rovinescu been able to alter the negative perception of Air Canada that has plagued the minds of customers and employees for several years now? Continue reading