Giving feedback on another's performance and behaviour at work - both positive and negative - is probably the most simple and cost effective means of improving performance. Yet commonly L&D professionals report a reluctance in management and staff to engage in feedback. At the same time UK employees report not receiving enough of it. We know that giving feedback should not be restricted to the annual performance appraisal meeting. In high performance company cultures, giving and receiving feedback constructively is a normal part of the working day. So how can managers and teams be encouraged to do more of it?
Approaching his line manager with an expectation of praise having gone the extra mile to complete a goal, a client was surprised to find his boss expressing her irritation and disappointment with the result. What he’d done was not what she’d asked for, time had been wasted, and an important task had now become a scarily urgent one. In talking to me afterwards my client expressed his frustration that his boss was always like this - notoriously hard to please and difficult to work for.
This story is one I frequently hear in one guise or another. As often, this will be from from the line manager’s perspective, and the frustration associated with the inability of direct reports to undertake simple requests and complete straightforward objectives.
In such cases I will usually ask how sure they were that the other person understood what was being requested. Invariably they will be very quick to assure me that they were absolutely clear. When I then ask, as I usually do, how they know that, typical responses will be “well, it’s obvious what was meant” or “she said she was OK about it…” and so on. In virtually all situations there has been an assumption made – an assumption that you understand my request, or an assumption that I understand what you are requesting of me. Rarely it seems do we test these assumptions.
Giving vague or unclear directions is terribly common in organisations (and at home!) – we all do it. There are various contributory factors at work:
Accepting vague or unclear directions or objectives is similarly common, and for similar reasons. In addition, if we have a personality that is keen to please, we may be more likely to accede to a request and to quickly get stuck in. If we are low in assertiveness we may be reluctant to ask for clarification or to admit we are unclear. Usually though, we make similar assumptions and assume we know what is meant.
So how can we overcome these assumptions and avoid the problems that result? What behaviours can we change?