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Coaching Leadership

Swing and a Miss

We all give feedback to lots of people, in a wide range of situations. Sometimes it’s really well balanced, hits the mark exactly and really helps that person drive forwards to a positive change. Sometimes it doesn’t land perfectly, but with some reflection they find value. Sometimes it’s a total miss, that elicits a negative or even hostile response.

What do you do?

First up, consider the response. Reflect on the content. Is it an emotional outburst? Is the person giving additional context or information? Where’s the difference between what you were aiming to share and what they’ve taken from your communication?

If you struggle to unpick this, then take a bit of a break. It’s very normal for your own emotions to spike out if you hit this type of reaction, and reacting in turn will not help matters! It may be helpful to reach out to a less involved third party to get their view, especially if they witness the situation that arose to the provision of the feedback.

Now you’ve got a better picture, you need to decide what to do. When feedback misses badly, it can put a real dent into a relationship. You’ll need to do some work, and it’ll take some time to get back to where you were.

First off, were you just wrong? If the recipient has given some more information and you recognise that something you said was factually incorrect, then don’t be afraid to offer a strong and full apology. “I’m sorry, what I said was incorrect and I recognise this has upset you. Thank-you for sharing the additional information, I will ensure that I’m fully up-to-speed in future before commenting”. Then follow through on that commitment, and demonstrate to the recipient the learning you have stated you will undertake.

If you were factually correct, but the recipient has reacted emotionally, then you still may apologise (It’s not nice to make people feel bad). If you are doing this, make sure to make it a real apology, no soft “We apologise for any emotion you have felt”, nor ones that make things worse “I’m sorry you took that so badly”.

As a leader, you may still need to land the message to drive a change in behaviour, so your next step would be to reframe the feedback (repeating it will certainly not work). Focus on what you observed and the impacts of the behaviour you saw. In this higher stakes scenario, practice this reframing before delivering it. Write down your observations, run them back and check that they are better than before. Review them against Situation/Behaviour/Impact or your own favoured feedback framework.

It’s also great at this point to recognise it’s a tough conversation! It might feel meta, but highlighting this gives you the chance to remind the recipient the value that can come from these tough moments.

Finally, you will look towards rebuilding that relationship. Again, depending on what your miss looked like, this will take different forms. Listen again to what the recipient is telling you. The fix might be as simple to change the style or format of the feedback. This is a very likely outcome in the remote world, as text chat can come across many times harsher than the same message given face-to-face in real time.

Alternatively, the recipient may have given you that extra information that changes the situation somewhat. Here you can provide additional support by removing a blocker or doing something else to smooth their path forwards.

As you are repairing the relationship, you must ensure that whatever you commit to in this stage is something that you stick to and continue to do, even beyond the initial repair period. This is how to build back trust that you have damaged.

So, sometimes feedback misses the target, and sometimes it misses in a destructive way! If you spot this early, then you can correct it. It’ll take some effort, but doing it with care and attention can rebuild a damaged relationship and even strengthen it for the future!

Categories
Coaching Leadership

Appeal to Rationality

In a difficult conversation, it’s easy to fall into the trap of appealing to rationality. When emotions are running high, especially on one side of the conversation., then you may try for a “let’s just be rational about this”.

It’s a very similar position to asking someone to “calm down”, and likely to have about the same effect. That’s ranging from nothing, to a full and final breakdown in communication.

We fall into this trap when we are less immediately impacted by the conversation. Maybe it’s one where you’ve had time to digest the contents, whereas the other party is hearing tough news for the first time.

Quite often it’ll be when the topic is incredibly important to the other party, but is less impactful to you. It’s extremely common when you confuse a lighthearted topic with one that’s truly important to the other person. That’s a difficult conversation which you didn’t realise would be difficult, which is just about the hardest kind.

Appealing to rationality, or attempting to be logical, will not work in an emotional situation (and all situations are somewhat emotional). There’s no independent arbiter doling out correct answers. No impartial judges validating your feelings over another’s. When you move to “rationality”, this external justification is exactly what you are seeking, to the detriment of the overall conversation.

When you are reaching for this conversational gambit, you may really be attempting to slow down the conversation, bringing it back to a shared pool of understanding.

If that’s the case, just go for it. Recognise the emotion, and ask to take a moment. “Can I take a second to gather my thoughts?”, “I can see that this is a really important topic for you, what else would you like to share right now?”. “I’m keen to understand more, I’m sorry I’m not there yet”.

All these are approaches to bring you towards a productive exchange of meaning, which you won’t get with a suddenly appeal to faceless authority.

Don’t waste time being rational, when you can build a lasting an powerful human connection instead.

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Coaching Leadership

It’s Never Just Business

What you do defines who you are. The actions you take and the options you choose are the things that define your shape in the world.

If you are ever in a situation where you are considering saying “It’s Just Business”, then take a moment and think about why you are about to do this.

When you remove yourself from the discussion in this way, then you are often attempting to shift responsibility for something away from yourself. You are suggesting that this third party, the impartial arbiter, this other, “business” is responsible, where you are not.

This is probably an emotional or difficult moment, so you may not be able to course correct in the flow the first time you notice it. If not, you can pick-up after the conversation and reflect later.

There is an emotional, personal connection in all relationships, no matter how professional they may be. If you can recognise this then you can empathise with the other person in the conversation and build a more meaningful relationship, even if the news you are delivering is hard to hear or likely to disappoint them.

Don’t let it be Just Business, own your actions and you’ll be a better leader, and a better person.

Categories
Coaching

Riding the Elephant

I recently came across an excellent metaphor for the interaction of logic and emotion, presented by Haidt in The Happiness Hypothesis.

Imagine that logic is a person, riding the elephant of emotion. Sometimes the elephant is quiet and logic steers the way. Sometimes it’s not, and nothing that the rider does can alter the course. The harder the rider tries, the less likely they are to have any impact at all, it may just get worse.

In these cases, you have to let emotion take its course, ride with it rather than fight it and hold off on trying to set direction.

Doing this successfully requires great self-awareness, and you won’t always manage to get it right. If you can start to recognise when the elephant is making its presence felt, then you can start to understand what’s going on in your mind and how it’s impacting your life. If you can’t, then you are doomed to be dragged around whilst flailing inconsequentially on the elephant’s back.

Logic doesn’t always win. Recognise this and you’ll ride the elephant to a much better place!