x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Don't take this personally

The Life: From "The Office" to "Horrible Bosses," managers have been put under a harsh spotlight. Here's what they can do in the real world to help employees.

A survey conducted last month found that 46 per cent of employees have worked for an unreasonable manager. istockphoto.com
A survey conducted last month found that 46 per cent of employees have worked for an unreasonable manager. istockphoto.com

From the small screen to the cinema, horrible bosses have been under a harsh spotlight recently, often for their lack of being able to provide proper feedback to employees.

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One survey released this month found that nearly half - 46 per cent - of employees say they have worked for an unreasonable manager. While many workers stayed in their job and dealt with the issue, 27 per cent quit once they had something else lined up, according to OfficeTeam, a staffing agency in the US that developed the survey.

But it isn't just bad bosses that make missteps when leading their employees in an organisation. Even nice managers make mistakes, sometimes due to their fear of giving critical feedback.

Some employees tend to drone on during office meetings, for instance. Yet if a manager doesn't provide feedback then workers can't become aware of their weaknesses and they'll continue droning on, losing their audience and the impact of their message.

Giving people feedback is an act of trust and confidence, according to Peter Bregman, a strategic adviser to chief executives and their leadership teams. It shows that managers believe in an employee's ability to change and that they will use the information to become better. It also shows faith in someone's potential, and a sign of commitment to the team and to the larger purpose and goals of the organisation.

Mr Bregman recently shared some tips with the Harvard Business Review on how to ensure feedback is compassionate and not just critical:

Ask permission

Start by asking: "Can I give you some feedback?" This evens out the power dynamic, makes it easier for a manager to speak and prepares the other person to accept the feedback more openly.

That doesn't mean that accepting criticism will be easy. But even though it may be difficult, letting someone know what everyone else already knows is the opposite of aggressive. Aggressive is not giving people feedback and then talking about them and their issues when they aren't around. Aggressive is watching them fail and not helping.

Ironically, when managers avoid sharing feedback, it usually comes out at some point anyway, as gossip or in a burst of anger or sarcasm or blame directed at the person. And that's aggressive. Passive-aggressive. To avoid that kind of ugliness, it's critical not to delay.

Don't hedge

When people are uncomfortable criticising, they try to reduce the impact by reducing the criticism. Sometimes they sandwich the criticism between two compliments. But hedging dilutes and confuses the message. Instead, be clear, be concise, use a simple example, make it about the behaviour, not the person, and don't be afraid of silence.

Even skilled managers loathe giving critical feedback, but they should keep in mind that telling someone they talk too much or they appear insincere is not mean - it's helpful. Some topic areas may feel aggressive or confrontational, such as telling someone they dress poorly, appear insincere or walk all over others. But Mr Bregman argues that, without question, all employees - executives included - should weigh in, as long as what they say comes from caring or supporting the other person, and not from sympathy or malice.

Do it often

Managers should tell people what they think that's both positive and negative. That's how companies create a culture in which people are open and honest for each other's benefit. If management offers feedback only once in a while, it feels out of character and more negative.

Of course, not all feedback needs to be critical. Positive feedback is excellent at reinforcing people's productive behaviour, encouraging them to use their strengths more effectively and abundantly. Offer it frequently. Just do so at a different time than when critical feedback is shared.

* with Reuters