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Closed-Door Conversations at Work: What Do They Really Say About Business Leaders?

February 17, 2016

In the workplace, “Come in and shut the door” usually precedes a tough conversation and is a phrase known to strike terror in the hearts of employees.

But the manager on the other side of the desk is likely feeling just as apprehensive about delivering the news, according to a new survey conducted online by Harris Poll on behalf of communications consultancy Interact.

Among 1,120 employed surveyed, 616 of them manage employees in the workplace, a stunning majority (69%) of managers surveyed said, there is something about their role as a leader that makes them uncomfortable communicating with their employees. What is it?

In fact, the fear of hurting people’s feelings and facing drama and retribution is reaching crisis proportions in the workplace, with over a third (37%) of business leaders reporting that they are uncomfortable, having to give direct feedback/criticism about their employee’s performance that they might respond badly to.

The results further reveal that leaders who manage employees in the workplace are uncomfortable on a number of communication fronts, including:

  • Demonstrating vulnerability (e.g., sharing mistakes they’ve learned from) (20%)
  • Recognizing employee achievements (e.g., giving praise for a job well done) (20%)
  • Delivering the “company line” in a genuine way (20%)
  • Giving clear directions (19%)
  • Crediting others with having good ideas (16%)
  • Speaking face to face rather than by email (16%)

“The stakes are too high for managers and leaders to avoid having difficult conversations with their employees. In the absence of direct feedback, negative or positive, we become less powerful and ineffective. Team communication breaks down. Leaders become irrelevant.  But for leaders who get it right, feedback can create collaboration, a culture of connection and sustainable change,” said Lou Solomon, CEO and founder of Interact.

See: Fixing the Workplace Culture for Our Own Good

“In their everyday interactions, leaders are clearly not making the connections with their workers that can give them a competitive advantage.” Leaders, who aim to become more comfortable communicating with their employees, whether sharing good or not so good news, are those who do the following:

  1. Be Direct, Be Kind

Being direct does not require being unkind.  Making someone feel wrong, or feeling superior in some way, is off track. However, offering feedback is an opportunity for growth and can be an incentive for an employee to be more of who they are.  At the same time, a direct conversation falls apart when beating around the bush.  It should include specific examples of behaviour to illustrate the issues.

  1. Listen

Listening provides a space in which people can feel respected. Ideally a direct feedback conversation is meant to spark learning on both sides—managers and employees must understand the situation together in order to make positive change.

  1. Don’t make it Personal

Imagined slights and malice are toxic. It is easy to take things personally in a direct feedback conversation. Acknowledging the emotions being felt will offer the recipient a relief valve for any stress they might experience.

  1. Show Up, Be Present

Show up, be fully present—and don’t rush off after having a tough conversation with an employee. Be brave enough to allow moments of silence to come into the conversation. Follow up afterward so that afterthoughts don’t create imagined distance and hurt feelings.

  1. Inspire Greatness

Communicate the brilliance of the recipient and the aspiration for who they can become. Respectful, direct feedback restores the individual and the team to sanity.  It costs absolutely nothing, except an emotional investment of honesty, taking the risk of a bad reaction…and being uncomfortable.

Also read: Does Your HR Communication Mechanism Meet Employees’ Needs?

Image credit: LinkedIn

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