Sitting across from an employee, clearly distressed by the notion that his job was at risk, he exclaimed “Why are you being confrontational?”
Shocked by his response I explained that by giving him all the facts I was supporting him in making an informed choice about the best way to handle the situation. He didn’t thank me kindly for my consideration because he wasn’t ready to hear the truth. So, instead of seeing my words as helpful he took it as me trying to wreck his career.
Whilst that conversation took place some years ago now, his surprise reaction stayed with me. It caused me to ask whether you can cultivate an environment with honest, straightforward, no-nonsense feedback and still have a supportive workplace.
I know that sensitive feedback can be honest. In fact, I would advocate that because it’s way more effective than blind optimism or blunt criticism. It motivates performance; is less likely to be misinterpreted and uplifts employees rather than leaving them deflated.
Of course it’s important to be authentic about it. If you force yourself to ‘do the right thing’ you will come across as manipulative; and that will damage any trust the individual has in you.
On reflection, I think a lack of trust lay at the heart of the interaction I describe above. This individual joined us from another company as part of a business acquisition and I think he saw me as the face of the company that had turned his world upside down.
I was genuine in my attempt to help that employee and I wouldn’t change my approach if I had the same conversation again tomorrow. And I continue to be direct in my feedback because there is value in offering strong challenge with high support. Without it nothing changes and people plod along unaware that all isn’t well in their world – or with their team.
This week’s link is for People Managers who are required to be an able team player whilst leading from the front.