By Gillian Burdett

Kim Scott, author of, “Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity,” tells the story of Bob, a new hire who came to her firm with outstanding credentials. He was very likable, but he consistently turned out poor-quality work. She cared about this employee and knew he could do better. However, she wasn’t comfortable dishing out criticism, and she never gave him honest feedback. No one on the team wanted to tell him his work was sub-par. As a result, he never improved. He thought he was doing well, or well enough. The rest of the team had to pick up the slack, and Scott eventually had to let Bob go. She failed in her role as a leader.

How do you give negative feedback to your employees so that they won’t perceive it as a personal attack? According to Scott, it requires a caring employer-employee relationship. A “bad boss,” one who doesn’t care about an employee’s well being, would simply have thrown the work back on Bob’s desk, ticked off a list of its deficiencies and demand revisions. Most recognize the hostile environment this approach creates. Yet, dancing around the issue in an attempt to spare feelings is negligence. Leaders must provide guidance, but employees must trust their leader values them personally if they are to accept criticism as an opportunity for learning and growth, not a personal take-down.

Establishing personal relationships in a professional environment

“The central difficulty of management,” Scott writes, is “…establishing a trusting relationship with each person who reports directly to you.” Scott is not talking about forming social bonds at the company holiday party or building friendships by discussing outside hobbies and interests. Employees, says Scott, don’t want to discuss the weather and sports with their bosses. You build trusting relationships through one-to-one conversations with employees about their concerns and goals. You build a team by soliciting and valuing employees’ opinions. You must also recognize that you are working with human beings.

When it comes to your employees’ personal lives, you don’t want to be intrusive. However, writes Scott, you won’t do your best work by keeping personal feelings out of the office in the name of professionalism. Your humanity is part of yourself, and you don’t want to show up at work without your full self. The relationships you need to form are based on a sincere caring about your employees, their lives, and their success in the workplace. It is not unprofessional to care about their personal trials. It is human to empathize. You can’t build trusting relationships without this humanity.

Feedback that brings results

Feedback has a purpose. You do not give feedback to stroke egos or assert power. Focused feedback encourages learning and growth. To be effective, feedback must be specific. What elements of a report made it good? Why are certain parts weak?

Conversations about job performance need to be two-way. You may be higher up on the corporate ladder, but as human beings, you and your employees are equals. You need to listen to the views of your employees and seek to understand them. It makes no sense to hire good people and then ignore what they have to say. If your employees feel their input is not valued, they won’t trust your motives when you give feedback on their work.

You need to create a company culture that welcomes critique and thrives on debate that is free from power plays, anger and fear. If your team knows you care about their professional growth and their personal goals — you should if you care about your company’s growth and goals — they will take your feedback as learning opportunities. They will be thankful for the guidance. You will also be able to solicit feedback from your employees. Is there something you can do differently to smooth out difficulties in the workplace?


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