Leading with Trust

How to Give Feedback That Builds Trust in a Relationship

feedback3Giving feedback to someone is a “moment of trust” – an opportunity to either build or erode trust in the relationship. If you deliver the feedback with competence and care, the level of trust in your relationship can leap forward. Fumble the opportunity and you can expect to lose trust and confidence in your leadership.

For most leaders, giving feedback is not our most pleasurable task. Having been on both sides of the conversation, giving feedback and receiving it, I know it can be awkward and uncomfortable. However, I’ve also come to learn and believe that people not only need to hear the honest truth about their performance, they deserve it. Most people don’t go to work in the morning and say to themselves, “I can’t wait to be a poor performer today!” We do a disservice to our people if we don’t give them candid and caring feedback about their performance.

The key to giving feedback that builds trust rather than destroys it is to have a plan in place and a process to follow. You want people to leave the feedback discussion thinking about how they can improve, not focused on how you handled the discussion or made them feel.

People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.      ~Maya Angelou

Before Giving Feedback

Before you have the feedback discussion, it’s important to do three things:

  1. Assess the quality of your relationship – What is the level of trust and mutual respect in your relationship? If the level of trust is low, work on building it. If there has been a specific breach of trust, work on healing the relationship before giving feedback. If the feedback receiver doesn’t trust and respect you, your message will be perceived as one more way “you’re out to get them.”
  2. Diagnose the situation and clarify your motives – Clarifying your motive for giving feedback and the results you want to achieve will help you give the right kind of feedback. Is your motive to simply give information and let the receiver decide what to do with it, or are you making a request or demand and expecting the receiver to do something different? Be clear on the outcome you’re trying to achieve, otherwise your feedback will be muddled and ineffective.
  3. Make sure there is/was clear agreements about goals, roles, and expectations – Did you fulfill your leadership obligations by setting the person up for success with a clear goal? If the goal isn’t/wasn’t clear, then reset or renegotiate the goal. If circumstances beyond the employee’s control have changed to inhibit goal achievement, work on removing those obstacles, revisit the goal, or engage in problem solving.

Feedback Guidelines

When you have the feedback discussion, you’ll be much more successful if you follow these guidelines:

  1. Give feedback on behaviors that can be changed, not on traits or personality – Behavior is something you can see someone doing or hear someone saying. Telling someone they need to be more professional, flexible, or reliable is not helpful feedback because it’s judgmental, nonspecific, and would likely create defensiveness. Being specific about the behaviors the person needs to use to be professional, flexible, or reliable will give the receiver a clear picture of what he/she needs to do differently.
  2. Be specific and descriptive; don’t generalize – Because giving feedback can be uncomfortable and awkward, it’s easy to soft pedal it or beat around the bush. Think of giving feedback as the front page newspaper article, not the editorial. Provide facts, not opinions or judgments.
  3. Be timely – Ideally, feedback should be delivered as close as possible to the time of the exhibited behavior. With the passage of time, perceptions can change, facts and details can be forgotten, and the likelihood of disagreement about the situation increases. Above all, don’t save up negative feedback for a quarterly or yearly performance review. Blasting someone with negative feedback months after the fact is leadership malpractice.
  4. Control the context – Timing is everything! I’ve been married for over 28 years and I’ve learned (the hard way) the value of this truth. Choose a neutral and comfortable setting, make sure you have plenty of time for the discussion, be calm, and pay attention to your body language and that of the receiver. Don’t let your urgent need to deliver the feedback overrule common sense. Find the right time and place to deliver the feedback and the receiver will be more receptive to your message.
  5. Make it relevant and about moving forward – Rehashing or dwelling on past behavior that isn’t likely to recur erodes trust and damages the relationship. Keep the feedback focused on current events and problem solving strategies or action plans to improve performance. Staying forward-focused also makes the conversation more positive in nature because you’re looking ahead to how things can be better, not looking back on how bad they’ve been.

Along with these five guidelines, it’s important to solicit input from the feedback receiver to hear his/her viewpoint. You may be surprised to learn new facts or gain a better understanding of the story behind the situation at hand. Don’t presume to know it all when having the feedback discussion.

Giving feedback doesn’t have to be scary and painful. Most people know if they’ve messed up or are falling short in a certain area, even if they don’t like to admit it. The way in which the leader delivers the feedback can have more impact than the feedback itself. You can deliver the message in such a way that your people leave the meeting committed to improving their performance because they know you care about them and their success, or your delivery can cause them to leave feeling wounded, defeated, and less engaged than when they arrived. Which will it be?

It’s your moment of trust. Carpe Momentum! Seize the moment!

The 1 Thing Every Employee Needs That Most Bosses Don’t Know How to Give

Challenging ConversationsEvery employee needs candid (yet caring) feedback about her performance, but most bosses shudder in fear at the thought of having that tough conversation.

I’m the first to admit that having a discussion about an employee’s failing performance is one of the most unpleasant things a leader has to do; it’s awkward and uncomfortable for both parties involved. I mean, come one, no one likes to hear they aren’t doing a good job. But the way in which the feedback and coaching is delivered can make a huge difference. The key is to have a plan and process to follow.

The following steps can help you balance toughness with tenderness and get an employee’s performance back on track while preserving, or even building trust in the process.

1. Prepare – Before you have the performance discussion, you need to make sure you’re prepared. Collect the facts or data that support your assessment of the employee’s low performance. Be sure to analyze the problem by asking yourself questions like:

        1. Was the goal clear?
        2. Was the right training, tools, or resources provided?
        3. Did I provide the right leadership style?
        4. Did the employee receiving coaching and feedback along the way?
        5. Was the employee motivated and confident to achieve the goal?
        6. Did the employee have any personal problems that impacted performance?

2. Describe the problem – State the purpose and ground rules of the meeting. It could sound something like “Susan, I’d like to talk to you about the problem you’re having with the defect rate of your widgets. I’ll give you my take on the problem and then I’d like to hear your perspective.”

Be specific in describing the problem, using the data you’ve collected or the behaviors you’ve observed. Illustrate the gap in performance by explaining what the performance or behavior should be and state what you want to happen now. It could sound something like “In the last week your defect rate has been 18% instead of your normal 10% or less. As I look at all the variables of the situation, I realize you’ve had some new people working on the line, and in a few instances, you haven’t had the necessary replacement parts you’ve needed. Obviously we need to get your rate back under 10%.”

3. Explore and acknowledge their viewpoint – This step involves you soliciting the input of the employee to get their perspective on the cause of the performance problem. Despite the information you’ve collected, you may learn something new about what could be causing or contributing to the decline in performance. Depending on the employee’s attitude, you may need to be prepared for defensiveness or excuses about the performance gap. Keep the conversation focused on the issue at hand and solicit the employee’s ideas for solving the problem.

4. Summarize the problem and causes – Identify points of disagreement that may exist, but try to emphasize the areas of agreement between you and the employee. When you’ve summarized the problem and main causes, ask if the two of you have enough agreement to move to problem solving. It could sound something like “Susan, we both agree that we need to get your defect rate to 10% or below and that you’ve had a few obstacles in your way like new people on the line and occasionally missing replacement parts. Where we see things differently is that I believe you don’t always have your paperwork, parts, and tools organized in advance the way you used to. While we don’t see the problem exactly the same, are we close enough to work on a solution?”

5. Problem solve for the solution – Once you’ve completed step four, you can then problem solve for specific solutions to close the performance gap. Depending on the employee’s level of competence and commitment on the goal or task, you may need to use more or less direction or support to help guide the problem solving process. The outcome of the problem solving process should be specific goals, actions, or strategies that you and/or the employee will put in place to address the performance problem. Set a schedule for checking in on the employee’s progress and be sure to thank them and express a desire for the performance to improve.

Using this five step process can help you address an employee’s poor performance with candor and care that will leave the employee knowing that you respect their dignity, value their contributions, and have their best interests at heart.

Stop Walking on Eggshells – 4 Tips for Dealing with Temperamental People

Walking on EggshellsHunting for hidden eggs is one of the great traditions of celebrating Easter. The fun and excitement of finding eggs can be tempered by the prospect of accidentally stepping on and breaking those delicate treasures. As a result, you end up cautiously tip-toeing through the hunt, afraid to move too fast or take any chances. After a while it takes the fun out of the whole experience.

Walking on eggshells around temperamental people at work takes all the fun out of your job. We’ve all probably had the experience of knowing or working with someone who blows up without any warning or at the slightest provocation. It can be intimidating to work with someone like this, and if you aren’t careful, it’s easy to get trapped in relating to this person in unhealthy ways. You can find yourself constantly bowing to this person’s wishes, avoiding the person, or actually believing you’re at fault for this person’s reactions.

Here are four suggestions to help you deal with this kind of situation:

1. Realize it’s not you – Your behavior isn’t the problem. The problem is the emotional instability of the other person. You are not responsible for how another person reacts, even if they blame you for their behavior (e.g., “You make me so mad!”). The truth is that each of us has to take responsibility for our own behavior, not that of other people.

2. Don’t cater to their demands – There is a reason the U.S. government has a policy of not negotiating with terrorists and it should also be your policy with the office tyrant. Negotiating or catering to the demands of someone does nothing to change their behavior over the long-term and only works against you. They get what they want by having you modify your behavior to suit their needs and you get nothing…except walking on eggshells.

3. Set and maintain boundaries – Healthy boundaries are the key to relating to difficult people at work. Everyone deserves to be treated with kindness and respect, but that doesn’t mean you should be a doormat for them. It’s completely appropriate for you to set boundaries with difficult people, and most importantly, consistently maintain those boundaries. It will likely mean some uncomfortable, yet necessary conversations with the offending party.

4. Seek help if needed – Handling this kind of situation directly with the other person will often solve the issue, but sometimes you may need to call in reinforcements. Don’t hesitate to ask your manager to help address the problem. Reaching out for help doesn’t make you weak and sometimes the offending party won’t change his/her ways until the boss addresses the problem.

Moment of Trust – How to Give Feedback That Builds Trust, Not Destroys It

feedback2Giving feedback to someone is a “moment of trust” – an opportunity to either build or erode trust in the relationship. If you deliver the feedback with competence and care, the level of trust in your relationship can leap forward. Fumble the opportunity and you can expect to lose trust and confidence in your leadership.

For most leaders, giving feedback is not our most pleasurable task. Having been on both sides of the conversation, giving feedback and receiving it, I know it can be awkward and uncomfortable. However, I’ve also come to learn and believe that people not only need to hear the honest truth about their performance, they deserve it. Most people don’t go to work in the morning and say to themselves, “I can’t wait to be a poor performer today!” We do a disservice to our people if we don’t give them candid and caring feedback about their performance.

The key to giving feedback that builds trust rather than destroys it is to have a plan in place and a process to follow. You want people to leave the feedback discussion thinking about how they can improve, not focused on how you handled the discussion or made them feel.

People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.      ~Maya Angelou

Before Giving Feedback

Before you have the feedback discussion, it’s important to do three things:

  1. Assess the quality of your relationship – What is the level of trust and mutual respect in your relationship? If the level of trust is low, work on building it. If there has been a specific breach of trust, work on healing the relationship before giving feedback. If the feedback receiver doesn’t trust and respect you, your message will be perceived as one more way “you’re out to get them.”
  2. Diagnose the situation and clarify your motives – Clarifying your motive for giving feedback and the results you want to achieve will help you give the right kind of feedback. Is your motive to simply give information and let the receiver decide what to do with it, or are you making a request or demand and expecting the receiver to do something different? Be clear on the outcome you’re trying to achieve, otherwise your feedback will be muddled and ineffective.
  3. Make sure there is/was clear agreements about goals, roles, and expectations – Did you fulfill your leadership obligations by setting the person up for success with a clear goal? If the goal isn’t/wasn’t clear, then reset or renegotiate the goal. If circumstances beyond the employee’s control have changed to inhibit goal achievement, work on removing those obstacles, revisit the goal, or engage in problem solving.

Feedback Guidelines

When you have the feedback discussion, you’ll be much more successful if you follow these guidelines:

  1. Give feedback on behaviors that can be changed, not on traits or personality – Behavior is something you can see someone doing or hear someone saying. Telling someone they need to be more professional, flexible, or reliable is not helpful feedback because it’s judgmental, nonspecific, and would likely create defensiveness. Being specific about the behaviors the person needs to use to be professional, flexible, or reliable will give the receiver a clear picture of what he/she needs to do differently.
  2. Be specific and descriptive; don’t generalize – Because giving feedback can be uncomfortable and awkward, it’s easy to soft pedal it or beat around the bush. Think of giving feedback as the front page newspaper article, not the editorial. Provide facts, not opinions or judgments.
  3. Be timely – Ideally, feedback should be delivered as close as possible to the time of the exhibited behavior. With the passage of time, perceptions can change, facts and details can be forgotten, and the likelihood of disagreement about the situation increases. Above all, don’t save up negative feedback for a quarterly or yearly performance review. Blasting someone with negative feedback months after the fact is leadership malpractice.
  4. Control the context – Timing is everything! I’ve been married for nearly 26 years and I’ve learned (the hard way) the value of this truth. Choose a neutral and comfortable setting, make sure you have plenty of time for the discussion, be calm, and pay attention to your body language and that of the receiver. Don’t let your urgent need to deliver the feedback overrule common sense. Find the right time and place to deliver the feedback and the receiver will be more receptive to your message.
  5. Make it relevant and about moving forward – Rehashing or dwelling on past behavior that isn’t likely to recur erodes trust and damages the relationship. Keep the feedback focused on current events and problem solving strategies or action plans to improve performance. Staying forward-focused also makes the conversation more positive in nature because you’re looking ahead to how things can be better, not looking back on how bad they’ve been.

Along with these five guidelines, it’s important to solicit input from the feedback receiver to hear his/her viewpoint. You may be surprised to learn new facts or gain a better understanding of the story behind the situation at hand. Don’t presume to know it all when having the feedback discussion.

Giving feedback doesn’t have to be scary and painful. Most people know if they’ve messed up or are falling short in a certain area, even if they don’t like to admit it. The way in which the leader delivers the feedback can have more impact than the feedback itself. You can deliver the message in such a way that your people leave the meeting committed to improving their performance because they know you care about them and their success, or your delivery can cause them to leave feeling wounded, defeated, and less engaged than when they arrived. Which will it be?

It’s your moment of trust. Seize it!

Heart to Heart Talks – Three Steps to Discuss the Elephant in the Room

At the root of many of our interpersonal or team conflicts is a failure to communicate. Sometimes the problem is that information isn’t shared broadly enough and people become resentful because they weren’t included. Other times we say things that come out wrong and people are offended, even though we may have had good intentions behind our message. Regardless of how the situation was created, if we don’t take the time to thoughtfully address it, the miscommunication evolves into the “elephant in the room” that everyone knows is present but isn’t willing to address.

Recently I worked with a client where the elephant in the room had been present for nearly a year. The issue within this team had led to a fracture in what were previously very close relationships, had tarnished the team’s reputation within the organization, and was causing strife and turmoil that was affecting the team’s performance. Everyone on the team knew the elephant was in the room, but no one wanted to talk about it.

To break the communication logjam and get the team back on the path to restoring an environment of openness, trust, and respect, I used a facilitated discussion process called Heart to Heart Talks, adapted from Layne and Paul Cutright’s book Straight From the Heart. If the participants are committed to the health and success of the relationship, and approach this process with a desire to be authentic and vulnerable, it can be a powerful way to discuss difficult issues and allow everyone to be heard.

The process involves three rounds of discussions and the speaker and listener have very specific roles. The speaker has to use a series of lead-in statements that structure the context of how they express their thoughts and emotions. In order to let the speaker know he/she has been heard, understood, and allow additional information to be shared, the listener can only respond with the following statements:

  • Thank you.
  • I understand.
  • Is there more you would like to say about that?
  • I don’t understand. Could you say that in a different way?

The first round involves a series of “Discovery” statements designed to create openness among the participants and to learn more about each others’ perspectives. The speaker can use the following sentence starters:

  • Something I want you to know about me…
  • Something that’s important to me is…
  • Something that’s challenging for me right now is…

The second round comprises “Clearing” statements that allow for the release of fears, anxiety, stress, and to increase trust. The speaker can use the following sentence stems:

  • Something I’ve been concerned about is…
  • Something I need to say is…
  • A feeling I’ve been having is…
  • Something I’m afraid to tell you is…

The third round involves “Nurturing” statements that create mental and emotional well-being in the relationship. These statements allow the participants to put closure to the difficult issues that were shared and to express appreciation for each other that sets the stage for moving forward in a positive fashion. The speaker can use the following phrases:

  • Something I appreciate about you is…
  • Something I value about you is…
  • Something I respect about you is…

The facilitator can structure the process in a number of ways, but the important thing is to establish a rhythm for each round where the speaker gets a defined amount of time to share (using the lead-in statements) and the listener responds after each statement. It’s important for the listener to respond each time because it sets the proper rhythm for the discussion and validates the thoughts being shared by the speaker. The speaker should be encouraged to share whatever comes to mind without censoring his/her thoughts or saying what he/she thinks the other person wants to hear. If the speaker can’t think of anything to share, he/she can say “blank” and then repeat one of the sentence starters. Encourage the participants to keep the process moving and the thoughts will flow more quickly. At the conclusion of the three rounds, it’s important to close the discussion with a recap of the desired outcomes and any action items the participants want to pursue.

As “Captain”, the prison warden in the movie Cool Hand Luke, famously said to Paul Newman’s character, “What we have here is (a) failure to communicate.” That’s often the case when it comes to interpersonal or team conflicts, and using the Heart to Heart process can help people confront the elephant in the room that everyone knows is there but is afraid to discuss.

No Leadership Fear: Five Guidelines to Deliver Feedback for Results

Giving effective feedback on behavior or performance strikes fear in the heart of many leaders. This past week I spoke on this topic at the Ken Blanchard College of Business at Grand Canyon University, and when I asked audience members why this was the case, I heard reasons like this: fear of confrontation, a desire to avoid conflict, uncertainty about the way the receiver will react, or a lack of confidence and competence in their own abilities to deliver feedback in a constructive, positive way.

Receiving feedback is a natural part of life and it allows us to interpret our behavior and circumstances and make any necessary adjustments. If you touch a hot stove, what happens? You feel the heat and burn your fingers…that’s feedback! If you play golf and hit your drive into the pond…that’s feedback! If you make your wife angry and she forces you to sleep on the couch…that’s feedback! (And the subject of a different blog!)

Feedback is information about past behavior, delivered in the present, which may influence future behavior. Before you deliver feedback, you should assess the quality of the relationship with the receiver. Is there mutual respect and a good level of trust? Have you given feedback to this person before? If so, how did he/she react? Do you know their story – hopes, fears, struggles, family background – that influence the way they “show up” at work? If you don’t have a solid relationship with the receiver, the feedback will probably fall on deaf ears. Work on improving the relationship before delivering the feedback.

You should also check your motives before delivering feedback. Are you giving information, making a request, or making a demand? Are you hoping to improve the person’s performance or satisfying your ego by making a point? Make sure your motives are in the right place before delivering the feedback. Also, make sure there was clarity on the goals, roles, or expectations on the part of the receiver. It’s not fair to give someone feedback on their performance if they weren’t clear on what was expected in the first place. Leaders have to take responsibility for examining whether or not they set the receiver up for success or failure.

Once you’ve prepared, make sure you’re clear on the right type of feedback you need to deliver to produce the results you desire. There are four basic types of feedback:

  • Feedback on “What”—Feedback that provides objective information about results, end product(s), or outcomes
  • Feedback on “How”—Feedback that provides objective information about the process or way results are obtained
  • Praise—Emotion-revealing feedback designed to encourage certain desired behavior in the future
  • Disapproval—Emotion-revealing feedback designed to extinguish certain undesired behavior in the future

When you’re ready to deliver the feedback, it’s important you follow these basic guidelines:

  1. Give feedback on behaviors that can be changed, not on traits or personality. For example, saying “Sally, the way you interacted with that customer was unprofessional” isn’t very helpful in allowing Sally to know what to do differently. “Sally, you need to say ‘Hello’ to each customer when they walk through the door, introduce yourself by name, and offer to answer any questions” is much more specific and helpful to Sally.
  2. Be specific and descriptive, don’t generalize. Think of giving feedback as the front page of the newspaper, not the editorial page. Keep it focused, concise, and to the point and avoid rambling or going off on tangents.
  3. If possible, give feedback immediately. Perceptions change over the course of time and opens the door to misunderstandings or different interpretations of events. The longer you wait between the time the behavior occurs and when you give feedback, you run the risk of the “leave alone, ZAP!” problem: the receiver thinks everything is fine until, ZAP!, he/she gets zinged with some feedback about something that happened long ago. That creates resentment, animosity, and erodes trust.
  4. Control the context. Choose the right time of day, a neutral location, be calm, keep your emotions in check, and regulate your body language to make sure you provide an environment that will support the success of your message and not hinder it.
  5. Make it relevant and about moving forward. Dwelling on past behaviors or events that are unlikely to reoccur damages trust and inhibits your ability to provide constructive feedback in the future. Keep the feedback relevant to the situation at hand and focus on what needs to change in the future.

Trust earns you the right to give feedback, and trusted leaders have learned to deliver feedback in a way that enhances the relationships with their people as well as improves their performance. If leaders are committed to building trust and following these common sense guidelines, they need not have any fear about giving feedback.

Build Trust by Learning How to SPEAK – A Model for Handling Challenging Conversations

Whether you’re delivering a difficult message, giving tough performance feedback, or confronting insensitive behavior, handling a challenging conversation can strike fear and trepidation in the heart of a leader. If handled with skill and care, these situations are prime opportunities for leaders to build trust with those they lead.

The SPEAK model is a helpful tool to navigate challenging conversations.

S – State your concerns directly. Speak in private and face-to-face whenever possible and use “I” language to voice your concerns, thoughts, and feelings about the situation. A common myth about handling challenging conversations is that you should be objective and only stick to the facts. While you certainly want to be factual, you also need to share your feelings, without blame, so the other party understands the impact of the situation. Don’t make sarcastic or belittling remarks and be sure to share the consequences if the issue isn’t resolved. How it sounds: “Since we missed our deadline, I’m concerned that we may not meet our project goals.”

P – Probe for information to gain deeper understanding. Talk with an open and interested tone of voice and use open-ended questions to probe for more information to help you understand behavior that may seem incomprehensible. Pause long enough to give the person time to respond and listen with the intent to understand and be influenced by her point of view. How it sounds: “I’m confused about why we missed the deadline. Can you tell me more about what you thought our agreements were?”

E – Engage each other through whole-hearted listening. Be mentally present and intentional about listening. When people feel fully heard, they are more open to creative solutions, alternatives can be explored, wounds healed, and defensiveness lowered. Paraphrase to make sure you’ve heard and understood correctly and be sure to reflect the person’s feelings and values. How it sounds: “So you are saying that when I spoke with you about your performance that I was not clear about your goals and responsibilities?”

A – Attend to body language. Make sure that your body language matches your words. Sometimes leaders force themselves to be too relaxed when the situation is actually quite serious and that sends confusing signals to the other person. Pay attention to the other person’s body language and challenge inconsistent verbal and non-verbal messages with “I” statements. How it sounds: “I’m confused. I hear you saying that you think we don’t have a problem, yet I notice you sitting in a way that I’m interpreting as being angry.”

K – Keep forward-focused when possible. Once past issues have been addressed and the air cleared, focus the conversation on what each of you are going to do moving forward. Ask directly if the other person is ready to move forward, and if she isn’t, return to step E to explore any other issues or concerns that may be unresolved. How it sounds: “From my perspective, we have cleared up past misunderstandings. I am ready to move forward if you are. Is there anything on your end that we have not addressed yet?”

Working through difficult situations is an opportunity for leaders to build trust. It’s during these times that followers can feel most vulnerable to leaders because of the disparity of power in the relationship. Leaders who use their power in the service of others by demonstrating care and concern in handling challenging conversations will increase engagement, commitment, and trust with those they lead.

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