Most of us don't like conflict. It's uncomfortable and many of us believe that we always need to be nice. Unfortunately, it's hard to be a successful leader if you avoid conflict. Surprisingly, conflict avoidance is one of the most common problems that I've encountered in both new and experienced leaders. However, there are so many benefits to feedback that leaders need to reframe their thinking and see crucial conversations as a gift to the employee rather than a hardship.
First of all, it's rare that a performance or behavioural issue with an employee will change on its own. More likely, the behaviour will get worse. For example, if Bob shows up 10 minutes late a couple of times and the manager doesn't say anything, suddenly Bob believes that tardiness doesn't really matter. Then Bob starts to be late more and more often, until eventually he's starting to arrive 15 to 20 minutes late.
Bob has now set the stage for other employees to be late, and those that arrive on time will become frustrated that other employees are arriving late to work and the manager doesn't say anything. This will begin to create tension and will affect morale. Whereas a simple conversation with Bob after the second time he was late would have prevented further instances. If Bob doesn't change the behaviour after the conversation, then of course additional actions may be needed to address the situation.
The second benefit to giving difficult feedback to an employee is that most employees want to know how they are performing. An employee can't improve and grow without feedback. A big part of an employee's engagement level is attached to learning and development. Being able to take constructive feedback is part of that learning journey.
Finally, managers who care about their employees will give them feedback. It is a gift. When managers avoid addressing an issue, employees can interpret that as disinterest or weakness. Once you have developed relationship with your team, giving feedback becomes much easier, particularly if you are already having regular one on one meetings with your employees. That is a perfect opportunity to create a culture that supports employee feedback.
If you are a leader who struggles with how to give difficult feedback to an employee, contact us to find out more about our 4-D Feedback Model that provides a practical framework for having crucial conversations:
Melissa Ketler (BA, MA) is an Organizational Leadership Consulting at Fox & Owl Consulting, who published a Master’s thesis on organizational continuity and succession planning, and has over 20 years of organizational team leadership experience.