A study a few years back conducted by Harris Poll asked over six hundred managers how comfortable they were giving feedback to employees. Amazingly, 69% of the respondents said that they were uncomfortable communicating with their employees in general – not just while giving feedback. When it came to feedback or criticism that they didn’t think would be received well, 37% were uncomfortable. And 20% were uncomfortable when demonstrating vulnerability with employees, such as discussions about their own past mistakes.
Clearly, leaders at every level have a lot left to learn about conversing with employees. The ability to communicate effectively with employees is a skill that takes time to develop, and it doesn’t simply work itself out over time. While you may get better at having key conversations with employees as you gain more experience, you’re as likely to get entrenched in bad patterns or simply avoid direct communication altogether.
It isn’t always comfortable, but your long-term career success and the immediate success of your team rely on your ability to communicate effectively. Here are three types of conversations – laid out by David Witt of The Ken Blanchard Companies – that managers should take the time to schedule, practice, and learn from.
- Goal-Setting Conversations
This all-important conversation is the first step toward getting on the same page with your employees. Without a direct conversation about goals, you might have one idea about an employee’s duties, while they have an entirely different idea. This leads to miscommunication, frustration, and sometimes all-out anger.
In any goal-setting conversation, it’s important to be specific and direct. The who, what, where, when, and why should all be made clear, and both parties should feel encouraged to ask questions. It’s fine to give certain employees pre-set directives in certain situations, but in general, try to make goal-setting conversations exactly that – conversations. Listen to the wants and needs of your employee so that you can both be happy with the planned course of action.
- Feedback Conversations
Feedback on employee performance is often saved for annual performance reviews, which means you might be needlessly letting yourself stew over something that could have been resolved months ago. Feedback conversations should happen regularly – so regularly that they’re nothing to worry about for either party and never contain surprises for the employee
There are a few vital things to keep in mind while giving feedback:
- The person you’re speaking to has feelings that need to be respected.
- Be direct, but be kind.
- Start with the positive. Give a compliment before moving into areas of possible improvement.
- Give examples, and don’t make any assumptions.
- Don’t make the feedback personal. Insults have no place in feedback.
- And remember that in order for criticism to be constructive, you need to offer some sort of solution to existing problems.
At the same time, let the employee be part of the solution. Again, this is a conversation, not an excuse to hand down commands.
- One-on-One Conversations
While all these conversations should generally be had one-on-one, this final type of conversation has a particular purpose – checking in with the employee and getting their feedback. You, the leader, should not have any objective going into a one-on-one conversation. Rather, these conversations should be led by the employee, giving them a chance to voice concerns, ask questions, seek guidance, and even get to know you better.
These sorts of conversations may take different shapes in different work settings. Maybe you take your two direct reports to lunch once a week for a casual check in. Or maybe you schedule half hour sessions once every quarter with the fifty people who report to you. Whatever the case may be, make it clear that the employee will be leading the conversation, and if they are too intimidated or unprepared to do so, be ready with open-ended questions like, “Tell me about a few of the projects you’ve been working on lately.”
What sorts of work conversations make you uncomfortable? What’s helped you have more fruitful conversations at work? Let us know in the comments.