Your people are your greatest assets, but they’re also human beings with various ambitions, views, and flaws. If you’re in charge of a team, you have to focus much of your energy on communication and performance management. Proper communication with each individual and the team as a whole will help keep everyone on track and mitigate any growing issues or concerns.
This is easier said than done, of course. When something goes wrong, a tough conversation may be in order. And if you’re the team leader, the impetus is on you to conduct these tough conversations with dignity while still addressing the issues at hand. Let’s explore some of the ways you can navigate these interactions while also preventing them from devolving into finger-pointing or talking around the problem.
How to Have Challenging Conversations Well
Keep it Private
When a problem arises in your company, it may affect your whole team. Or, your team might have triggered the problem in the first place. Whatever the case, resist the urge to address your team as a whole right away. It’s often better to speak with individuals one-on-one to better understand the issue before bringing it up at large. If the problem seems to stem from a single person, you’ll want to begin by speaking with that person first, of course.
Private discussions are free from distractions and eliminate the potential to lean on or blame anyone else. This gives you the opportunity to better understand where the other party is coming from. Holding conversations in private can also help the other party feel more comfortable, as they won’t feel singled out in front of the rest of the team.
Be as Clear and Honest as Possible
Good leadership communication is all about clarity. The more transparent you are, the better the conversation will go. What does this transparency look like in action? It means addressing the issue head-on, clearly explaining why it matters, and genuinely expressing your desire to make things better as a team. The more sincerity you show, the more sincerity you’ll receive. A workplace culture built on this trust is bound to be more successful.
Don’t Make it Personal
Just because you’re speaking with a staff member one-on-one doesn’t mean the conversation has to get personal. Instead, the talk should focus on the problem itself. Even if the individual contributed to the problem in question, merely placing blame is not an effective way to course-correct. You should try to uncover the full context of the issue and discuss ways to make future improvements. We all make mistakes, and sometimes underlying circumstances play a part. If you’re not willing to dig deeper into all relevant factors, the same mistakes will rear their heads again.
Let the Other Party Speak
Tough conversations cannot be one-sided. Yes, you’re the one initiating the discussion, but you must also let the other party speak and ask questions if anything is to get fixed. Be sure to ask them questions as well. If you don’t open a dialogue you won’t know how to manage your team effectively in the future. Of course, the individual might start placing blame on others, avoiding the problem, or responding emotionally. If this occurs, continue listening, but try to bring the conversation back to the issue, not the person.
Forge a Path Forward Together
The goal of any tough conversation is to amend a problem, making things better moving forward. This can only be done through team effort. Make sure that you end every difficult discussion with a purpose. Work with the individual to create strategies and solutions that will benefit them, the team, and the company. Dignity requires autonomy and self-respect, so you should empower your employees to do better in the future, helping them along the way with mindful team management.
Tough conversations are by definition never easy. They can, however, be productive and cathartic, as long as they’re conducted with dignity. With proper leadership communication training, you can get better at having these conversations. The better you get at this, the stronger your team and your business will be. Leadership Resources offers courses and resources for improving your communication and team management skills.
Most of us don’t like receiving criticism. But when we look back on our lives, we often find that our most significant moments of growth were driven by feedback and advice from others. We’ve already discussed the problems with being your own coach. Indeed, sometimes we need an external push to point us in the right direction. If you’re in charge of team management, part of your job is to evaluate its performance and dole out criticism that can help get everyone back on track.
Mastering this communication and performance management is easier said than done, however. On one hand, you don’t want to water down your comments or avoid confronting imminent issues. On the other hand, you don’t want to make your team uncomfortable by singling out members or acting rudely. There is an area between these poles that allows you to criticize your team without demeaning them. Let’s explore this area, how to find it, and how to navigate it properly.
How to Properly Criticize Your Employees
Deconstructing Constructive Criticism
Most of us have heard the term “constructive criticism” before. In fact, it’s one of those terms that loses its meaning after a while due to how frequently it’s used. Still, this is a relevant concept that’s worth truly understanding, as it defines the area between weak feedback and bullying mentioned above.
Constructive criticism isn’t necessarily easy to swallow or even “nice.” Rather, it’s honest feedback given in good faith designed to improve the organization. The feedback given must have the ultimate purpose of improving the individual, team, and/or behavior moving forward. Without this aim in mind, criticism lacks initiative, and may even be given in bad faith. This is why leadership communication is so vital when delivering feedback. If you fail to clearly communicate why a problem needs fixing and how it might be fixed, you’re likely to encounter the problem again.
The Lame Blame Game
Anyone who grew up with siblings has probably partaken in the blame game before, whether that blame was warranted or not. It’s true that we’re responsible for our own actions, and when we make mistakes it’s best to own up to them as soon as possible. However, playing the blame game is not an effective way to manage your team.
When someone makes a mistake, it affects the whole team. Even if a single person made an error, this mistake serves as a learning opportunity for everyone including that individual, of course. The key here is that the problem gets addressed, not that the individual gets singled out. If you do point the finger, plenty of new issues can arise. For one thing, the finger may get pointed back at you or other team members, quickly creating fissures in the company culture. Also, blaming an individual in front of the team can make that person feel ostracized, which may decrease their productivity and willingness to work.
Some mistakes are more serious than others, of course. If a team member does something hurtful, dangerous, disingenuous, or illegal, you will have to address this person directly. However, it’s often best to have a one-on-one conversation with said person rather than single them out in the group.
Reiterate Unity and Vision
Ultimately, the best way to criticize your team without demeaning them is to frequently remind everyone of their shared purpose. You and your team are in this together. There are bound to be mistakes along the way, and they all must be addressed. But it all must come back to the unified vision so every team member can regroup and get back out there better than before. It isn’t personal.
If you’re still new to leading a team, it’s worthwhile to invest in any available communication training for managers. These programs will help you become a better leader, listener, and bearer of constructive criticism. If you want to learn more about how to manage your team effectively, look no further than Leadership Resources.
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