Friday, July 9, 2010

Criticize or Critique: The Feedback Skills of our Managers and Leaders

I am a big fan of the television show “So You Think You Can Dance.” As a former dancer myself, albeit never at a professional level, I truly appreciate the grace, athleticism, and emotional expression of this art form, not to mention the sheer challenge contestants go through to execute in a dance style that they may have no experience in.

Last night judge Mia Michaels did something extraordinary that really stuck with me. The previous night she delivered a particularly harsh criticism of contestant Adéchiké Torbert, the audience even booed her, but last night she apologized. What struck me was not the apology per sé, or that it was delivered publicly, but the fact that she told this young man she loved him and believed in him.

While her original message was rather harsh and the acknowledgement that she believed in Adéchiké and cared about him came a little late, it struck me – this is the type of support that people want. We want to know that we are cared about as individuals.

A recent article in Talent Management magazine cited research showing executives felt most engaged when their CEO personally cared about them. The important fact to note here is that there are all kinds of research linking engagement to productivity and therefore to bottom line numbers for business. People who feel cared about feel engaged. People who are engaged are productive.

Doing things that help the other person know you care about them is also the basic tenet behind interpersonal and relationship counseling. My favorite author in this space is Harville Hendrix with his book, “Getting the Love You Want.” He provides some excellent processes to help people reestablish trust, and safety, and demonstrate caring.

How many of you have gotten feedback that made you feel like withdrawing or becoming detached? A friend of mine confided that meetings with her boss were grueling and emotionally exhausting because he barraged her with all kinds of questions that seemed to come out of left field that she wasn’t prepared for and then ended by saying the meeting was painful for him, and in fact all meetings with her were painful for him. No follow up with, “but I’m confident you can fix this,” or even “we can fix this together and your skills will grow,” just “meetings with you are painful for me.” What a HUGE vote of no confidence in your abilities or in you as a person. Wow.

A recent broadcast on NPR interviewed a company that provides customer service for their clients in industries like medical, insurance, and high tech to name a few. The approach this customer service company takes to handling customer calls is empathy. When customers call to understand why their claim was rejected or if their insurance will cover a surgical procedure, they want the person on the other end of the phone to be compassionate and empathetic to their situation.

This company further engrains the culture of caring by encouraging their call center employees to spend as much time on the phone with their customers as they need to get to know the caller and establish a relationship. How amazing is that given most call centers are evaluated on how quickly employees can close calls?

So it makes me think… maybe we could benefit from having our managers and leaders go through customer service training, or relationship training to grow their empathy and caring muscles as they grow the bottom line for the company.

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