Effective feedback is key to effective conflict management. This book has discussed the importance of surveying team members before an alignment session and then feeding the results back to them. This practice holds up the mirror of objectivity. Feedback is also a critical part of self-assessment exercises: Asking individuals to characterize themselves in terms of their communication stylenonassertive, assertive, or aggressive then asking their teammates to give them feedback is a reality check. When teaching active listening skills, we stress the importance of decoding and feeding back messages to the listener to ensure that both parties agree on the factual and emotional issues that need to be addressed.
Feedback, according to Michael Carey, corporate vice president of human resources at Johnson & Johnson, is akin to "shining a hot, white light" on an organization's interpersonal dynamics. It surfaces issues, opens up opportunities for discussion and improvement, and, when delivered constructively, is one of the best deterrents to dysfunctional conflict.
These are straightforward questions, but they are often overlooked. Ask them, and the answers you get will help you to choose the right time and venue for feedback sessions and to develop the right script. Remember Scott from the case study, whose behavior upset and offended the members of his team? One of the major issues they had with him was his tendency to berate them publicly , without giving them the opportunity to refute the charges leveled against them. During the alignment, the subteam that he had directed to formulate strategy, then second-guessed, were vocal about how belittled and embarrassed they had felt by Scott's surprise feedback in front of the management committee.
Attending behaviors are the things a listener does to convey the following message to a speaker: "I really want to hear what you have to say, and I'll be 'all ears' when we sit down for a discussion." One attending behavior that is critical to active listening is paying attention to time and place, and it is equally important when giving feedback. While there are instances where on-the-spot, public feedback is necessary, in most cases, dedicated time and privacy are more appropriate. Most leaders hold tightly to this rule when conducting scheduled performance reviews, but often forget it when giving informal, unscheduled feedback.
One effective leader always begins unscheduled feedback sessions by asking, "Is this a good time for me to give you some feedback?" Asking the question eliminates possible distractions and keeps his direct reports from feeling as though they are being taken by surprise. If the answer he receives is no, he ensures that a more appropriate time is scheduled for the feedback session.
Human resources literature is full of advice about giving feedback, so it is not necessary to dwell here on such issues as ensuring that you give both positive and negative feedback, how to order and balance the two, and the need to provide rewards and recognition. But one area tends to be overlooked: Every feedback session should be a two-way street.
Too often, leaders focus solely on giving feedback and neglect to engage in discussion with the person who is being evaluated. One way to do this is to provide equal time for a response. "What's your perception?" "Do you have any feedback for me about how I've handled this issue?" These questions can open the door to a very meaningful conversation.
One chief information officer (CIO) delivered a message to her information services director that she had received only one progress report in the first month of their organization's ERP (enterprise resource planning) system installation. She did not believe that she was being kept informed. "What's your take on the situation?" the CIO asked engagingly. The IS director pointed out that the two of them had never agreed on a reporting schedule, and he had thought that a monthly update would be sufficient. Opening the dialogue during the feedback session allowed the two to resolve the issue, which was to contract for the leader to receive biweekly reports from then on. The feedback session was concluded with no hard feelings and with an effective business solution in place.
When soliciting a response after delivering feedback, effective leaders employ the active listening skills discussed in Chapter 5, especially those that relate to decoding the emotional message behind the response. For example, suppose one of your employees continually shows up late for meetings. You arrange a meeting to discuss her tardiness. She explains that she is always swamped and cannot break away in time. Do not let the conversation stop there. It may be that she is engaging in passive-aggressive behavior as a substitute for addressing a deeper issue. To get to the root cause, use probing techniques such as "say more" responses ("Tell me more about the distribution of work in your department"), paraphrasing ("You seem to be saying that you have too much work to handle"), and decoding and feeding back("You seem angry about the amount of work that's been assigned to you").