Merge's Blog

Tag Archives: responding to feedback

Look backwards to move forward – a leadership message from the Sankofa

sankofaDo you know what the Sankofa is?  I heard it referred to briefly at a recent conference I attended, and it stirred me to research it further.  Turns out the sankofa is a metaphorical bird, generally depicted with its feet facing forward and its head turned backwards, lifting an egg from its back.  It is of great symbolism to the Akan people of Ghana, as it expresses the importance of reaching back to knowledge gained in the past in order to make positive progress forward.  Look backwards to move forward – what a great message for leaders everywhere!

As leaders, we need to draw upon and learn from our failures in order to avoid making similar mistakes and missteps in the future.  And just as important is a willingness to learn from others, and to use their experiences as stepping stones to move forward and onward.

Are you being like the sankofa?

It has been my observation that most people are disposed to learn from their own mistakes; after all, it’s not often that we tend to apply exactly the same method that we know has failed us previously.  But regrettably, a lot more infrequent is a willingness to take what others have done and build upon it.  The reasons vary.  Sometimes it’s because we like the sense of victory and satisfaction that comes from taking a project or initiative from start to finish solo.  Other times it’s because we don’t respect or like those who might have relevant experience.  Either way, we choose to go it alone and start at the beginning.  Which is a pity!

Ironically, we would achieve greater success by building upon what is already there – past experiences, others knowledge, an awareness of ours and others strengths – to create a solid foundation upon which to build even more.  The Sankofa obviously knows this.  Even the ancient Aztecs understood the value of this approach.  Isn’t it time that we all did?

So, what have been your experiences?  Are you being like the Sankofa?  Are you observing or working with people who don’t get this important concept?  Please share your perspectives by commenting below.

The art of dealing with criticism at work

Criticism stings.  Sure, it is sometimes couched as gentler “feedback”, or offered as “advice”, or even presented as a “pointer”.  Yet criticism it is.  And most of us don’t respond positively to criticism, especially at first.  Dealing with criticism is difficult and sometimes hard to swallow.  But if you want to grow as a valued professional and a respected leader, it is to your benefit to open-mindedly evaluate the criticism you hear, even if it hurts or it isn’t what you believe to be true.  But how exactly does one do that?

So glad you asked!  Because that is exactly what I cover in my latest column in The Globe and Mail which published this morning.  In it, I outline a simple two-dimensional tool that I utilize in my one-on-one mentoring work with leaders in my client organizations.  I call it the “Valid and important” model, and it’s very useful when dealing with criticism.

Evaluating what matters: A better way to deal with criticism at work

dealing with criticism

If you get the print version of The Globe, you’ll find this column on page B10. Continue reading

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

How to reduce the effect of destructive criticism

Back in February, my professional colleague Patricia Morgan wrote a guest post on workplace resiliency, specifically on how resilient people have an attitude of gratitude, even during tough times.   Her post was received so well that I asked her to join us again, and today she writes about another aspect of resiliency – responding positively to destructive criticism.

PatMorganReduce the Destructive Effect of Criticism

“I have some constructive criticism for you.”

Stop! Before criticizing it would be best to consider the results of doing so.

People with high resilience manage unwelcome criticism. They censor the criticism they both give and receive.

There are those who are totally against using any form of criticism and then there are the critical hardliners who say “A real friend will tell you the naked truth.” Then there are people who have a critical mind and perspective. Their gift is a logical critique that forewarns of problems. They could save us potential angst and trouble.  But where is the balance?

Here are reasons not to criticize: Continue reading

Why instant feedback is so useful

Recently, a family member suffered a partial lung collapse (it’s okay, she’s recovering 🙂 ) and part of her rehabilitation therapy is to practice breathing slowly and deeply through her nose. But old habits are hard to break, and she often forgets and reverts to rapid, shallow mouth breathing, which of course is not what anyone wants. So her medical support team implemented an instantaneous feedback system.

They hooked her up to a pulse oximeter and sat her in a chair so that she was facing the display screen. A pulse oximeter is a small non-invasive painless medical device, which when placed on a finger measures how well one’s blood is absorbing oxygen. Ideally, you want readings of 95 to 99 percent. When my family member does what she is supposed to do – breathe deeply and slowly through her nose – her pulse oximeter readings immediately climb to over 95 percent. But when she forgets (or dozes off) and reverts to shallow breathing, the readings drop and an audible beeping sound gives her an instant reminder to correct her breathing. Continue reading

Defensiveness in employees – who is really at fault?

Businessman OppressedLast week I received an unexpected phone call from a speaking colleague that made me think about defensiveness in employees in a whole new light.

This colleague called because she wanted to offer me “feedback” about an email I’d sent her in which I was soliciting support for a charitable cause launched by our professional association (of which we are both members). In case you’re wondering 🙂 her “feedback” wasn’t positive – she felt my writing was aggressive and was upset that I had contacted her on this subject. Ironically, I had sent an almost identical email to several other colleagues (also members of the association), and had already received responses from at least three of them complimenting me on a well-written missive and thanking me for reaching out to them. So needless to say, I was nonplussed by her reaction. Now I’m not averse to receiving feedback, negative or positive, particularly given that it’s something I encourage my clients to be willing and open to do. Continue reading

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.

It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it

I was cleaning out some old files the other day, and I came across an article from the September 2008 issue of Harvard Business Review.  Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis authored Social Intelligence and the Biology of Leadership, a review of how leaders can improve group performance by understanding the biology of empathy.  As I skimmed through the piece, one paragraph in particular caught my attention.

In a recent study, our colleague Marie Dasborough observed two groups: one received negative performance feedback accompanied by positive emotional signals – namely, nods and smiles; the other was given positive feedback that was delivered critically, with frowns and narrowed eyes.  In subsequent interviews conducted to compare the emotional state of the two groups, the people who received positive feedback accompanied by negative emotional signals reported feeling worse about their performance than did the participants who had received good-natured negative feedback.  In effect, the delivery was more important than the message itself.

So … the delivery is more important than the message itself.  In other words … it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.  Hmmm … I think I’ve heard that before.  Wait … it sounds a lot like my oft-repeated leadership mantra that separates managers from leaders: management is what you do, leadership is how you do it.  Go figure – I’ve been delivering this message for over 20 years now; but don’t you just love it when the research backs up fact! 😀 😀

So are you taking this into account when you seek to get the best out of your people?

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