Tag Archives: Team Communication

Communicating in Conflict

One of the realities of life is every once in a while, you are going to become embroiled in a dispute or argument that is emotional and personal. This article maps out a set of strategies that can help you stay focused on using communication to achieve a pragmatic outcome you can ‘live with’ – win-win is nice, but you cannot control the other person’s emotions so you need to focus on how you behave and your objectives: https://mosaicprojects.com.au/Mag_Articles/SA1063_Communicating_in_Conflict.pdf

For more articles on conflict management see: https://mosaicprojects.com.au/PMKI-TPI-010.php#Conflict

The art of giving feedback

feedback (1)One of the key supervisory skills needed by every leader is the ability to give feedback to their team on individual performance. The reason is simple, if the team don’t know what you expect from them, you are unlikely to get the performance you need. If someone is doing the ‘right thing’ they need to know it’s ‘right’ and be encouraged to continue. If someone’s not doing what’s required they need to have their efforts redirected.

Feedback is different to motivation – a highly motivated worker producing the ‘wrong thing’ quickly and efficiently has the potential to do more damage than an unmotivated worker producing very little. The ideal is a highly motivated team, all doing the right thing and all knowing they are doing exactly what’s required. Effective feedback is one of the keys to achieving this nirvana.

The starting points are effective delegation, making sure each team member knows what they are expected to achieve and why; and a constructive team environment where people understand the ‘rules’ and are willing to help each other. Delegation is discussed in our White Paper: WP1091 The Art of Delegation. Aspects of team leadership are discussed in a range of posts at http://stakeholdermanagement.wordpress.com/?s=team.

Once your people are busy working, the opportunity to use feedback effectively cuts in. As a starting point all types of feedback need to be genuine. The purpose of giving feedback is to improve the behaviour of the other person and to bring out the best in your team and this won’t happen is the feedback is seen as disingenuous. There are essentially three types of feedback and all three have their place:

  • Positive reinforcement where you acknowledge good work.
  • Constructive feedback where you suggest improvement.
  • Negative feedback where you highlight unacceptable behaviour.

Negative feedback
Negative feedback should be rare, and generally used only where there is some form of unacceptable behaviour. The key with this type of feedback is focusing on the behaviour not the person – you are dealing with an unacceptable behaviour, not an unacceptable person. Geoffrey James suggests these 10 rules for giving negative feedback:

  1. Make negative feedback unusual. The ratio is five or more positive feedbacks to one negative; and this may mean you need to plan to ‘accidently find the person doing something right’.
  2. Don’t stockpile negative feedback. Feedback is best given real time, or immediately after the fact; there is no ‘best time’.
  3. Never use feedback to vent. It creates resentment and passive resistance.
  4. Don’t email negative feedback.
  5. Start with an honest compliment. (Discussed below)
  6. Uncover the root of the problem by asking open questions.
  7. Listen before you speak. (See more on active listening)
  8. Ask questions that drive self-evaluation. (See more on effective questions)
  9. Coach the behaviours you would like to see. (See more on coaching)
  10. Be willing to accept feedback, too.

The vast majority of your feedback should either be constructive feedback where you help someone improve or positive feedback where you reinforce desirable behaviours:

  • Positive feedback includes praise, reinforcement, and congratulatory comments to reinforce and encourage the current behaviour or performance to continue essentially unchanged.
  • Constructive feedback includes suggestions for improvement, explorations of new and better ways to do things, or indicating the ‘correct way’ to do something that was done in a less than optimal way.

Feedback

Positive feedback
This is by far the easiest feedback to give, helps develop moral and commitment and most people appreciate recognition for a ‘job well done’. The challenge is to make sure this type of feedback is distributed evenly and fairly across the team. If someone feels they are being ignored and ‘others are getting all of the praise’ the feedback can be counterproductive.

Constructive feedback
Done well, constructive feedback is even more valuable than positive reinforcement. A recent survey by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman has found that 57% of people preferred corrective feedback; compared to 43% who preferred praise/recognition. But how the feedback is delivered really matters 92% of the respondents agreed with the assertion, “Negative (redirecting) feedback, if delivered appropriately, is effective at improving performance” . The challenge is to make sure your feedback contains information that is useful in a way that can be used.

In this respect, constructive feedback and coaching are very closely aligned. Coaching is discussed in more depth in my post Developing your team.

Giving Constructive / Negative Feedback
As already mentioned in the ‘negative feedback’ section the key to having your suggestion/criticism listened to is to start with an honest complement. One of the easiest is simply to say “Thank you for your hard work on this…” and then provide some feedback or even criticism immediately after. This approach is effective because:

  • It acknowledges the person’s hard work – Right or wrong, chances are good that the person worked hard on whatever it is that you are providing feedback for. It makes the person feel good at the start, because it tells them you noticed.
  • It doesn’t throw everything out of the window – It acknowledges that there is a good base to start from and with just a few tweaks and revisions it will be just fine.
  • It comes from a supportive angle – By verbalizing your position of appreciation and support, feedback will sit much better with someone who feels as if you have their interests in mind.
  • It is non-threatening – The person receiving the feedback immediately understands that you are not gunning for them, that your only motive is to help them and the deliverable to become better.

There are two caveats:

  1. If they didn’t work hard don’t use this opening, a different conversation is needed with a different complement to start the discussion (nice hairdo… / how are you feeling…. / I like your poster….). Honesty and integrity are key components of effective feedback and that starts from the very beginning.
  2. Don’t ever use ‘but’ or ‘however’ after the complement! “Thanks for all of your hard work, BUT…” simply means please ignore everything before the ‘but’. Use a construct similar to: “Thanks for all of your hard work, do you think we could make you job easier / quicker if ……”.
    It may old fashioned English grammar but (ie, ignore the beginning of this sentence), but is an exclusionary word similar to or:  “You can go to the cricket or the tennis” means pick one. And is an inclusive term. “You can go to the cricket and the tennis…” and in this context “Thanks for all of your hard work the outcomes are great and we can get even better…” (similar constructs exist in Spanish, and I suspect most other languages).

Why feedback is hard
One of the other interesting findings in the Zenger Folkman survey was people who don’t like receiving feedback don’t like giving feedback. And those who are open to feedback also find giving feedback easier. As a starting preposition, one of the easiest ways to gather ideas on how to improve your business is to have employees give feedback to managers, both in their own unit and in other units on options for improvement! But it is still not easy.

There are a number of reasons why feedback and certainly criticism are hard to administer and swallow at the same time:

  • People think you are attacking them personally.
  • People think you don’t have the right to offer feedback.
  • People think you think you are better than them.
  • People think everything they do is terrible.

The antidote is a strong team culture, showing you care and making sure you focus on the problem, not the person (unless the feedback is positive).

The ability to give corrective feedback constructively is one of the critical keys to leadership, an essential skill to boost your team’s performance that could set you apart.

It’s OK not to know!

You do not need to know everything! Unfortunately, to maintain their authority many project managers and other leaders feel they need to be the expert that has the answer to every question.  They think is a sign of weakness to ask for help or information or simply admit they ‘don’t know’. Rather than asking for input from their team, they burn energy trying to work out the answer themselves, even when it’s clear that this is not possible. Rather than being upfront with their team and managers, they either hide and don’t tell anyone they’re wrestling with a problem; or simply hope the issue goes away.

The simple fact is that if you don’t know something and waste your time trying to find the answer, or worse still make an expensive mistake based on incomplete of false knowledge, no-one benefits least of all you; particularly if you have pretended to be the source of ‘all knowledge’! Once your bluff has been exposed your credibility is destroyed and with it your ability to lead effectively (see more on effective leadership).

Strangely, most people are happy to offer help when someone else asks for it, but are shy or embarrassed to ask for help themselves. Strong leaders, managers and team members have the ability to overcome this ‘shyness’, take the time to clearly understand what they don’t know and then proactively seek help to build their knowledge and capability.

Everyone wins by asking for information or help when needed, rather than wasting time and energy trying to solve the problem themselves. The key is asking the ‘right questions’ in the ‘right way’ (seem more on the art of effective questioning) – the combination of engaging with team members through effective questions and making them feel important through active listening makes you a better leader and will also show your team that it is OK for them to ask for help as well. Then as a bonus, all of the energy that was being wasted wondering, researching and struggling to solve the problem can be used for positive purposes and the team moves forward.

The power of ‘not knowing’ will generate all sorts of efficiencies and open up two way communication within the team. A couple of examples include:

  • You can use your lack of knowledge to delegate (see more on the art of delegation). There are some tasks that are simply better delegated to an expert who knows precisely how to do the job quickly.  I’m sure everyone could learn to use pivot tables in Excel – but is it worth several hours of struggle when a knowledgeable expert can solve the issue in a few minutes – even if the expert is the most junior member of the team?
  • You can use your lack of knowledge is to engage team members. Go to a team member and get them to talk you through the challenge they have been working on. Tell them you haven’t really been across it and would like a briefing. You’ll get the lowdown on the task they are attacking and some good insights into how they work.

Finally, by actively demonstrating to your team that you ask for help when needed will encourage them to do the same, and as a consequence reduce errors, free up communication and enhance the flow of information in a positive way. This may seem obvious, but it won’t happen without a push in the right direction.

Things you can do as a leader:

  1. First, stop talking to yourself and decide that you are going to talk to someone else.
  2. Decide who that person will be.
  3. Craft the conversation. Write down what you are going to ask them and how you hope they will respond.
  4. Schedule a meeting with the person and promise you will ask them for help and be open to their suggestions.
  5. Tell someone of your intentions; someone who will hold you to account for having the meeting and asking for help.

Then be pleasantly surprised; most people are honored to be asked to assist their friends and colleagues and by asking for help you are showing them you respect their knowledge and abilities. This approach will even work with your boss and other stakeholders provided you ask intelligent questions in the right way, at the right time.

So in summary, it really is OK to know what you don’t know and seek help! The skill is being able to ask effective questions that get the right answers and then having the knowledge needed to appreciate and use the information once you have received your answer.  Remember, as a leader and a manager, in the end you are measured by what you actually achieve, not what you claim to know!

Motivation

Leaders motivate their teams and the surrounding stakeholder community to actively work to support the leader’s objectives. Motivation does not happen by chance, there are many traits the leader can display that assist in creating a motivated team. Some of the key traits are:

Communicate effectively. Communicate with transparency, authenticity and clarity and make it a priority to make time to talk to each and every member of your team on a regular basis. You may be busy, but you really can’t afford to allow communication black holes to develop.

Uncertainty creates a void. Unless you, the project manager, fill that void with clear and positive communication, people will assume the worst and act accordingly. Fear and negativity will creep in and dominate their thoughts, behaviours, and actions.

Build trust and empathy. Travelling to meet with team members in person is an investment in building trust as is asking questions. When you show an interest people’s culture, families and personal lives, often they will open up and by expressing interest, you can establish a much deeper connection that leads to a much deeper level of trust

Build relationships. Relationships are the foundation upon which winning teams and organisations are built. It’s much easier to motivate someone if you know them and they know and trust you.

Create a shared vision. Create a vision statement that inspires and rallies your team and organization; a short, simple, rallying cry that means something to the each person on the team. This vision statement must come to life in the hearts and minds of team members. Share it, reinforce it, and inspire your people to live and breathe it every day. A positive vision for the future leads to powerful actions today.

Lead with optimism. Transfer your optimism and vision to others. This inspires others to think and act in ways that drive results. Great leaders inspire their teams to believe they can succeed. As a leader and manager, you are not just leading and managing people, but you are also leading and managing their beliefs and you must utilise every opportunity to transfer your optimism to the team. Both optimism and pessimism are contagious, make sure everyone catches the optimistic bug.

Create purpose-driven goals. Break the vision down into practical, purpose-driven goals. Real motivation is driven by a desire to make a difference; people are most energized when they are using their strengths for a purpose beyond themselves. When team members feel as though the work they do is playing an integral role in the overall success of the company, they are motivated to work harder.

When they feel as though they are working for something more than just the bottom line, and the overall purpose of the project is aligned their personal goals with they feel good about the work they are doing.

Staff the team thoughtfully and nourish your team. Belief plus action equals results. If you don’t believe that something can happen, then you won’t take the actions necessary to create it. If you believe that your team can do big things, they will believe it, too. And that belief will fuel the fires of action and provide you with the results you’re looking for. Surveys consistently demonstrate that employees who think their managers care about them are more loyal and productive than those who do not. If you nourish your team and take the time to invest in them, they will pay you back in productivity, creativity and loyalty. If your team members know that you care about them, they will want to do good work for you. It’s the greatest motivator of all.

Motivating a team is hard work but any of the alternatives are much harder. For more on motivation see WP1048 at http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/WhitePapers/WP1048_Motivation.pdf

Communication or Confusion

Whilst preparing my March column for PM Network (available 1st March), I was considering the difficulties caused by language in the process of communication. Albert Einstein summarized the problem nicely: ‘The major problem in communication is the illusion that it has occurred.’

Communication, is a two way process to build a common understanding. But the process of communication is not helped by words. There are words spelt the same with totally different meanings:

  • The bandage was wound around the wound.
  • The farm was used to produce produce.
  • The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.

And words that are spelt differently but sound the same:

  • The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.

These are just a few examples, the meaning of some words also changes by national, regional and industry usage as well as the migration of slang into acceptable usage. The example I used in my column is Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present. What’s really interesting though is most people with a reasonable command of English within the context of the whole sentence would have little difficulty in distinguishing between:
– present = the current time
– present = bestow or give
– present = gift.

Then bring in punctuation to change the meaning of words:

  • Eats shoots and leaves.
  • Eats, shoots and leaves.

The Australian version of the ‘eats shoots and leaves’ joke is:

A wombat walks into a café. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires it into the ceiling.
‘Why?’ asks the confused waiter, as the wombat makes towards the exit.
The wombat produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder. ‘I’m a wombat’, he says, at the door. ‘Look it up.’
The waiter turns to the relevant entry in the manual and, sure enough, finds an explanation.
‘Wombat: Mid sized Australian marsupial. Eats, shoots and leaves.’

(The Australian version of this joke is actually eats roots and leaves – wombats live in burrows – but I won’t go there).

In face to face conversations, recognising misunderstandings that can lead to a breakdown in communication is fairly easy; up to 90% of the communication is through body language and vocal tones. Even with telephone calls, the tone of voice tells you a lot about the other person feelings. Traditional writing with proper sentence construction and punctuation falls a long way short of verbal communication but is also a well understood structure for conveying information, if not understanding.

However, the arrival of emails, SMS and twitter has transformed the communication landscape. In a virtual team probably more than 90% of the communication is based on the words in emails and texts. These communication media do not follow the traditional rules.

People in a well established group operating virtually may be able develop language protocols that provide effective communication but to outsiders this ‘new language’ can be almost impenetrable. Cn u undRst& dis? (translated at Lingo2word = can you understand this?). Throw in some good old industry jargon and from the perspective of the old rules, it’s surprising any one actually communicates. But they do, or at least appear to!

One study has suggested good virtual teams outperform good co-located teams but poorly functioning virtual teams are far worse than poorly function co-located teams. I need to follow up on this but my first impressions are the breakdown in communication implied in the study has far more impact in the virtual arena.

In this new age of interconnectiveness the rules of effective communication are different and rapidly evolving and the degree of acceptance of these ‘new rules’ is likely to be in part age based. Most people in their 50s and 60s really need to see someone they are dealing with at least once or twice to build rapport and open effective communications; whereas younger people seem totally comfortable building rapport by email and text.

Another aspect is the global nature of ‘web2’. Old communication protocols varied from society to society based on each society’s concepts of formality, social structure and power. Outsiders who needed to communicate effectively in a different culture learned the appropriate cultural norms. How relevant these traditional forms are to people under 30 who can communicate with anyone, anywhere using SMS and email, not to mention the social networking sites such as twitter has not been determined. More things to look at…..

What does this mean for a manager developing a communication plan today? The short answer is I don’t know. Effective communication is still critically important in most aspects of business but I would suggest relying on any set of protocols that worked in the past without a careful assessment of their current effectiveness is likely to be counterproductive.

Some of these questions will be addressed in my new book, Advising Upwards: A Framework for Understanding and Engaging Senior Management Stakeholders (publication 2011), many of the others are starting to be worked into our communication workshops but there’s a long way to go both academically and practically to really come to grips with the new communication landscape.

More later.