How Can Leaders Cut the BS at Work and Address Real Issues?

You talk about challenges and issues until you are blue in the face, but you still don’t get results. People promise they will do this or that, but they don’t. So you have a decision to make: “Do I bring up the tough issue, their lack of commitment, their poor performance—or not?”

We asked leaders why they avoid talking about what matters most. Their responses:

·  “We hoped that he would improve on his own.” (Without corrective feedback this is highly unlikely.)

·  “I feel awkward and uncomfortable talking about the issue, and I know she feels that way too.” (Classic conflict avoidance—any whiff of a possible negative emotional outburst sends people running for the hills.)

·  “Her performance isn’t that big of a deal.” (This thinking is simply a justification for failing to take action about an individual who is not performing.)

·  “I don’t want him to distrust me.” (In reality, failing to talk about an important issue creates more distrust: people generally are aware that their performance is substandard, so they are always waiting for the axe to fall.)

·  “I don’t want to get in trouble with Legal.” (This reveals a failure to follow proper company protocols for handling poor performance. Perhaps this leader is afraid that the employee might retaliate by leveling false accusations that could damage his or her reputation or career.)

·  “I don’t want to destroy the team’s morale.” (Everyone on a team knows who the weak link is. If the leader fails to address an individual’s lack of performance, there is an increase in frustration, drama, and ill-will from team members who must then pull more than their fair share of the workload.)

If you have found yourself thinking or speaking any of these statements, you need to acknowledge the thinking that is running your behavior.

Here are some things that you can do to overcome fake talk and get the type of results you are really hoping to achieve.

Think About Your Own Thoughts. Before you decide to address an individual’s poor performance, consider the clarity of your directions or expectations. Identify exactly what you want the individual to do and what specific results you expect the person to achieve. If you are unclear or vague about your expectations, the words you say will not help your cause. Be as specific as you can, or your directions may be misinterpreted by the listener. If you have not been getting the results you desire, begin by examining the clarity of your instructions.

Encourage Candor. Effective leaders know that when people feel comfortable sharing their concerns, learning and understanding will increase. Enhanced learning improves problem-solving and decision-making which impact the outcome of any endeavor. When work becomes hectic, leaders tend to become task-focused—they seek information, but don’t listen and attend to what people are really saying. In other words, a leader may say she or he wants honest input, but their behavior says otherwise. This disconnect has a damper effect on candor and open communication. Leaders need to walk their talk when it comes to encouraging candor about what is not working or why desired results are not achieved.

Ask Questions. Ask questions to see if you have been understood, to gain commitment, or to clarify your understanding. Ask questions to encourage your people to ask you questions. The way people answer your questions will you give insight into how they think and what they don’t know. Your improved ability to recognize what people are thinking will also help you to understand the power of your own delivery, which will allow you to make adjustments to how and what you communicate. If you can understand what keeps a person from performing as you desire, you can adapt your communication to help the person be more successful.

Listen and Attend. “She doesn’t listen,” is one of the most common complaints people identify about their leaders. We listen with our ears and attend with the rest of us. To attend, you must be completely present, hearing the words the person is saying and also recognizing the unspoken messages their nonverbals are sending. Even when a person is complaining or blaming, a wise leader can look past the negativity to find the positive value they are really expressing. If you listen and attend to what that person is saying, you might identify what is of value to them—and what they are not getting. You will gain insights about what can contribute to this person’s success.

Leaders can avoid the fake talk that happens in the workplace. Begin by thinking about what specific outcomes you desire, and encourage people to be candid about the how and why of their tasks. Ask questions and listen to what people are telling you, and you will find your people will be more productive, efficient, and successful. This, after all, is what everyone wants.