• Tuesday, July 16, 2024
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BusinessDay

Leading with empathy: Replacing harsh criticism with effective correction

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“The truth is that poorly delivered criticism can damage morale, derail progress, and foster resentment.”

Have you ever dreaded a conversation with a team member who isn’t meeting expectations? Maybe a missed deadline, a recurring issue of a poor-quality job, or simply a lack of engagement is causing a drag on your team’s performance. Addressing the problem head-on is essential, but how do you deliver constructive criticism without crushing morale or creating conflict?

Imagine yourself in the recipient’s shoes. Wouldn’t you appreciate a calm and understanding approach when receiving feedback? The truth is that poorly delivered criticism can damage morale, derail progress, and foster resentment.

Effective leaders know that correction isn’t about public humiliation; it’s about guiding improvement. Here are some key strategies to transform difficult conversations into opportunities for growth:

Don’t rush into a conversation. Take time to clearly define the issue. Gather specific examples of the behaviour that’s impacting team goals. Consider the desired outcome you want to achieve through this conversation.

Ensure a private, distraction-free space. These foster open communication and allow for a more honest exchange of ideas.

People are more receptive to feedback when it’s focused on specific actions rather than personal attacks. Use “I” statements to express how their behaviour is impacting the team. For example, instead of saying, “You’re always missing deadlines,” try, “When deadlines are missed, it puts additional pressure on the team to catch up.”

Give the team members a chance to explain their perspective. Listen attentively without interrupting. Show genuine interest in understanding their challenges. This two-way communication builds trust and allows you to tailor your feedback more effectively.

Effective leaders understand that correction is not punishment but a valuable tool for development. Work collaboratively to identify solutions. This empowers the team member and fosters a sense of ownership over the improvement process.

Let’s translate these principles into actionable steps:

Public criticism undermines trust and breeds defensiveness. Schedule a one-on-one meeting to discuss the issue in a safe, confidential space.

Don’t dwell on past mistakes. Instead, frame the conversation as an opportunity for growth. “How can we work together to ensure the next stage of the project meets expectations?”

Vague comments like “This needs work” are unhelpful. Point out specific areas for improvement and offer suggestions for moving forward. For example, “The data analysis in this report seems incomplete. Did you consider using X software for a more comprehensive picture?”

Don’t launch into a monologue. Listen intently to your team member’s perspective. Understanding their thought process helps tailor your feedback more effectively.

Acknowledge the difficulty of receiving criticism. Offer support and resources to help them improve. Let them know you believe in their ability to succeed.

Mastering the art of the difficult conversation is a leadership superpower. By following these steps, you can deliver constructive criticism that motivates positive change, strengthens team dynamics, and ultimately leads to a more successful organisation. So, the next time you have a tough conversation on the horizon, remember:

Rushing the conversation or allowing frustration to cloud your judgement is counterproductive. Approach the situation with patience and a willingness to listen.

Putting yourself in your team member’s shoes fosters understanding and creates a safe space for open dialogue.

Shift the conversation from blame to a collaborative problem-solving approach. This empowers the team members and increases the likelihood of positive change.

Here are some steps you can take to become a master of the difficult conversation:

Before correcting others, consider your own approach. Are you calm and empathetic? Do you provide clear, actionable feedback? Regularly assess your communication style and seek feedback from trusted colleagues.

Role-play giving corrective feedback with a trusted colleague. This allows you to refine your communication style in a safe space. Practise different scenarios and responses to prepare for real-world situations.

Leadership is a journey of continuous learning. Take courses on effective communication and providing constructive feedback. Read books on the topic and explore different leadership styles.

By prioritising clear communication, empathy, and a focus on growth, you can transform corrective feedback from a dreaded task into a powerful tool for boosting your team’s performance and fostering a positive work environment. Remember, effective leaders inspire improvement, not just point out flaws.
While corrective feedback is essential, it is equally important to acknowledge and celebrate successes. Positive reinforcement strengthens desired behaviours and motivates continued improvement. Here are some ways to integrate positive reinforcement into your leadership style:

A simple “thank you” or a public shout-out for a job well done can go a long way. Recognising achievements in team meetings or company newsletters fosters a sense of accomplishment and motivates others.

Consider offering performance-based incentives or rewards for exceeding expectations. This doesn’t have to be a grand gesture; a small gift card or additional time off can be highly motivating.

As team members demonstrate competence, entrust them with greater responsibility. This shows trust in their abilities and fuels their desire to continue growing.

By prioritising clear communication, empathy, and a focus on growth, you can transform corrective feedback from a dreaded task into a powerful tool for boosting your team’s performance and building a positive work environment. Remember, effective leaders inspire improvement, not just point out flaws. Difficult conversations, when handled with skill and care, become opportunities to unlock your team’s full potential.

About the author:

Dr Toye Sobande is a strategic leadership expert, lawyer, public speaker, and trainer. He is the CEO of Stephens Leadership Consultancy LLC, a strategy and management consulting firm offering creative insight and solutions to businesses and leaders. Email: [email protected]