Making your point with just the right amount of specificity, intensity and conviction is very difficult. Communicating with our colleagues, friends or family members is so difficult because we don’t want to run the risk of alienating them. If we come across as harsh, they may emotionally tune us out. Alternatively, if our approach is too vague they may not “hear” us.
So, the first consideration that we must undertake is to determine if we need to address certain sensitive issues at all. In other words, we must determine if our point needs to be made or if a correction is required. For example, if the issue concerns team mates, we should consider if a change or doing things differently will achieve better results. Roy Cohen, career coach and author of The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide offered many suggestions to help us improve our communication skills.
However, five (5) of his suggestions resonated with me. If you wish you can find his book here.
Criticism tolerance – It is very important to understand how a given person handles or processes criticism. Different personalities requires different approaches. A team member, friend or family member who is hyper-sensitive will require a delicate and sensitive approach if criticism is required and offered. The result that we don’t want is to diminish the self-esteem of the person, make them feel guilty or de-motivate them. Therefor, fewer and gentler words are better with this individual.
Ownership of a mistake – Since most of us are nice people, there may be a tendency to “sugar coat” criticism or need for corrective action in the middle of a compliment. However, if the team member, friend or family member is somewhat defensive, this might not be an effective strategy. So, don’t rescue or throw them a lifeline. They must be allowed to work through their mistake or emotion until they can take ownership and begin the resolution rationally.
Use discretion – Nobody likes to be criticized, and publicly doing so is the worst form of humiliation. Anyone who receives a public critique will focus on the embarrassment rather than the message. Instead, these interactions mu always be handled privately. This approach will foster a much more open and honest discussion with a team member, friend or family member.
Confirm before giving feedback – If you are a team leader, a golden rule must be that “impressions and assumptions are insufficient sources of information.” In other words, you must get to the truth of the matter before you offer any feedback. For example, if you want to give a team member some feedback about the handling of a customer’s order, you must ask a series of questions that allow you to understand the customer’s request, the team member’s actions, the reasons for a particular set of actions and the results of those actions. Only, then can you make a judgement that a particular correction must be made or any correction is actually needed. In this manner, you can adjust or temper your feedback as legitimately required by the situation.
No “buts” – The work but can be used as a conjunction to link a positive statement with a critical one. However, the result is usually the rendering of both part of the statement as ineffective. For example: “John, your technical skills are excellent, but you administrative and record leave a lot to be desired.” Instead, we might try this phrasing: “John, your technical skills are excellent. I noticed that the results of the latest tests were not logged. Is the logging system working as expected?” Although one particular formulation is not appropriate for every case, this formulation direct and sincere. It also may lead to an honest and productive response.
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