Posts Tagged ‘Relationship Management’

Leadership: Turning Criticisms into Agreements

Monday, January 10th, 2011

Recently I received an email from a manager asking me how to criticize his employees’ or colleagues’ without demoralizing them or creating a backlash. It’s a great question that managers have been struggling with for eons. The answer, I am convinced, is not to criticize, but to lead. By leading I mean guiding and motivating people into a more productive direction.

I have always liked the definition of good leadership given by former US President and Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight Eisenhower (whose negotiation style I studied for my PhD thesis): “You do not lead by hitting people over the head. Any damn fool can do that, but it’s usually called ‘assault’ – not ‘leadership.’… I’ll tell you what leadership is. It’s persuasion – and conciliation – and patience. It’s long, slow, tough work. That’s the only sort of leadership I know or believe in –or will practice.

When I teach leadership negotiation, I suggest a 5-step approach for turning complaints and criticisms into productive communication:

  1. Describe the problem— calmly, neutrally, factually, and withholding judgment. For example, instead of “You’re not pulling your weight on this project!” (which will only get the other party to think about everything that he or she has done that you are unfairly discrediting), you might say objectively, “I am told that you have missed the past two team meetings. Is that correct?”
  2. Question the cause—sincerely, with an open mind. After all, you may not have all the information. It may be as simple a question as, “Why is that?” The essential point is to listen genuinely to the answer and to take the other’s viewpoint into consideration.
  3. Explain the impact—seeking to broaden the other’s perspective by using facts or examples. In the above case you might explain, “I understand that you are under a lot of deadline pressure, but when you miss meetings it actually slows things down and makes more work, not just for you but for everyone on the team. It also is disrespectful to your colleagues.”
  4. Make a positive agreement—with the key words here beingpositive and agreement. A negative command (“Don’t do it again!”) creates  resistance and escalates tension. A positive agreement, especially one that  incorporates the other’s perspective into a shared solution, creates a psychological commitment. (e.g. “So we’re agreed that, in the future, when you have a conflict that prevents your attending a meeting, you will send a substitute with decision-making authority and personally let your teammates know in advance?”)
  5. Follow up—by complimenting them for fulfilling the agreement (or reminding them, if they seem to be slipping back into old habits). This is both provides positive reinforcement for changed behavior and shows the other party that you took their commitment seriously.

In the words of Lawrence Bossidy, former CEO of both Honeywell and Allied Signal, “The day when you could yell and scream and beat people into good performance is over. Today you have to appeal to them by helping them see how they can get from here to there and giving them some reason and help to get there. Do those things, and they’ll knock down doors.

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