Taja is Founder and CEO of Pulp+Wire, an award-winning, full-service consumer packaging, branding, and marketing agency in Portland, Maine.
It’s been an interesting phenomena to experience as a female founder: Time and time again, I hear professionals say they want to work for a female boss. Many assume that working for a woman equates to coddling, unwavering cheerleading and less overall pressure.
If you work for me － and I’m guessing most other successful female CEOs － that couldn’t be farther from the truth. I’m empathetic and work hard to relate to my team as a leader, a woman and a mother, but if you aren’t doing what needs to be done, I’ll tell you very directly. And if you’re killing it, I’ll tell you that too! Being direct doesn’t mean being harsh, it means being honest. It doesn’t mean being confrontational or abrasive, it means being clear.
Being direct is a necessity in the workplace. There simply isn’t time to beat around the bush or tread lightly in an effort to avoid conflict. At the end of the day, this isn’t personal, it’s business. To be clear, being blunt doesn’t mean being rude or oblivious to your colleague’s feelings. It simply means stating the issue in an effort to correct or solve the problem and move forward. Which is kinder to your team, and employees are not harbouring issues that could result in bigger, widespread conflict.
Here are a few strategies to make sure you’re communicating directly, respectfully and constructively.
1. Comment on the work, not the person.
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This is imperative: When giving constructive, direct and concise feedback, make sure it’s always about the work. Never, “This attempt is awful.” Instead try, ”This approach isn’t working.” This way, you’re making the point without attacking their intelligence. Also, while it’s easy to start backtracking or acting wishy-washy if the employee starts to react in a certain way, stay the course, and keep your comments on point.
2. Don’t coddle your employees.
The standard needs to be set from the get-go: Don’t expect applause for doing the work. There aren’t gold stars for just showing up. Praise and positive feedback is incredibly important in the workplace, but it can’t be the baseline. If the expectation from your team is constant applause, when they don’t get it, they can potentially get angry or fall apart. We want employees to work hard because it’s the expectation and because they’re good at it! Not because they’re waiting for recognition.
3. Tone is everything.
Being direct can come across as aggressive, even when that’s not the intent. Be careful with the tone you use when giving constructive or negative feedback. Rolling your eyes while turning down an idea with a blunt “no” is a much different experience than simply stating, “That doesn’t align/work and here is why…” Keep your tone even, and if necessary, gentle.
4. Put yourself in their shoes.
Hubspot captures this perfectly: “Productive conversations start with empathy. But concrete examples and explanations are what create clarity.” Looking at the situation from the other person’s perspective and listening to their point of view will make the conversation go more smoothly and who knows, you may uncover new context for the situation.
5. Give them what they want: direct feedback.
Many leaders still rely on the feedback sandwich: Positive feedback, negative feedback, positive feedback. While this strategy is certainly easier for the person delivering the feedback, oftentimes it leaves the recipient confused or foggy on the point of the discussion. People that work for you want to know if they’re doing something incorrectly so they can fix it and do better.
Giving feedback is an important part of the workflow, and figuring out how to do it well can be hard. “Walking that tightrope is difficult, but the answer to balance lies in authenticity,” leadership consultant Annette Y. Harris told Fast Company. And she’s absolutely correct. Being direct can be difficult, but the reward is ongoing trust and respect from employees.
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Author: Taja Dockendorf, Forbes Councils Member