I was on the Board of Directors of an excellent job training non-profit, JobTrain,some years ago. At one point, the Director, a fellow Board member and I were discussing the need to address a staff member’s performance problem. The Director anticipated that the person might react negatively. My fellow board member was Roy Clay. I already knew how accomplished and respected he is in Silicon Valley (more on Roy below). I then learned how wise he is.
Roy asserted that there would be no problem as a result of addressing the performance matter with the employee. It was a matter or how the message was delivered. I remember he said:
“ You can say anything to anyone, if you say it with love”.
His words have come to mind countless times since then, and led me to find better ways to deal with a range of tough situations. It is the epitome of applied Affective Action– combining an understanding of how people feel as well as how they think, to achieve higher outcomes, employee engagement and management effectiveness.
Here are three examples:
1. Performance management.
I used to hate giving corrective feedback to my employees. Even though I rarely get headaches, I would always get one on those days. Using Roy’s maxim I changed how I prepared for those discussions. I still made sure that I could be clear about the issue and what needed to change. But instead of preparing to deliver unwelcome news I prepared to help the employee increase their success and pride. An expression of a deficit became an expression of caring.
The results? Impressive:
- The employees left aware and motivated
- Our relationship seemed strengthened instead of strained
- I was left feeling confident that change would happen and … remarkably headache-free before, during and after!
Just a small shift in my own definition of my intent changed the dynamic and outcomes. Here’s my dissection of why it works:
- Instead of sensing the manager’s tension, the employee senses goodwill. This puts him/her in a receptive rather than defensive mode.
- Since the conversation is about enabling them to perform at their potential it is much more likely to be a collaborative dialogue. This produces better ideas about how to make progress and leads to more ownership by the employee.
- For the same reason, it is also a discussion that the employee looks forward to continue having. This is huge since giving them more feedback over time is much more likely to produce the desired result than a one-time one-way issue dump.
2. Communicating Budget Decisions.
As General Manager or team manager you frequently have to make tough resource allocation trade-offs. There are many legitimate needs that affect your people acutely that simply are not as critical as other needs. The problem is that you need high performance from people on both the winning and losing parts of the budget. When communicating the funding decisions, you can talk about the fact that fiscal discipline is key, that business is about tough choices, blah, blah, blah. But that does nothing to keep the people on the losing parts of the budget from feeling disaffected. Heck, it leaves even the budget “winners” feeling like they are part of an under-resourced family. I found that “saying it with love” works here too but means something different.
- Communicate Acknowledgement and Empathy. People will accept a decision if they feel that their need was understood and not just ignored. And let there be no mistake: They will assume that you did not understand or consider their need unless you actually express that you do/did. Remember, parents and managers are always judged to be clueless until proven otherwise.
Even if you show that you know everything about the thing that you are not funding, you may miss a key point: People want to know that you recognize their “pain” and feel bad about the negative impact they are bearing. Astoundingly, the quarterly “I know you are all working very hard” statement and the “THANKS!” slide aren’t enough. But if you can mention specific areas that are tight or unavoidably understaffed and how people are making do, you reach hearts, which are far more open than minds.
- Communicate the Tie to the Shared Underlying Strategy. Ok, if there is no strategy or if it is not already shared, there is work to be done. But when you do have one, reiterating it lets people know why the investments are being directed as they are and what the team expects to get “in exchange” for their sacrifice. People know or can imagine (or hope) that they will benefit if the strategy gets successfully implemented and the whole business does well.
Do you have a hypercompetitive colleague? Is another group not collaborating with one of your teams? Let’s face it, there are endless sources of conflict at work. I expanded on Roy’s maxim to deal with these. Here is what I advised people to do:
a. Think about what makes your adversary lovable. I know: this sounds truly weird. But you can’t act ‘with love” if you do not see them as a lovable person. Think now. Somebody must love them; what could have inspired that? Once you identify something, really appreciate that about them–no matter what you think of their other traits.
b. Before meeting with him/her, bring that sense of the person to mind. Once again, this sounds weird. But it works – though perhaps not the way you anticipate. Mentally bestowing your goodwill on them makes you feel powerful and benevolent. Your body language will unavoidably communicate this feeling. More than likely, you will be calmer, more in control and more influential. At best, the other person senses all this and it puts your conversation on a different course and plane. If nothing else, it confuses them. ☺
I have tried to make this practical and a bit humorous because I know that, in the business world, it is easy to dismiss anything involving the word “love” as incompatible with being serious-minded. But it is the most powerful force driving humans, trumping even the drive for self-preservation. Not harnessing it in business is serious mismanagement.
– Have you used similar approaches?
– Are there other situations in which you think this works?
FYI: Silicon Valley Engineering Council Bio of Roy Clay