You’re not what we need.
I’ll never forget the time when my supervisor shared those difficult words. Although my work was good, and I could be relied upon, I wasn’t the visionary they needed as a leader. I was seen as a diligent hard worker who always kept my head down but not the “ideas person” and the creative that could take the company to new heights.
It was the feedback that many dread—the kind that tells you you’re not enough. Even worse, my boss was telling me he feared I had reached my maximum potential and I was not going to move up in the organization because I didn’t exhibit strategic and innovative thinking. I had to figure out how to navigate a shift in my career.
It’s normal to experience a lull in your trajectory at work. It may last for a short time or more than year. The key is to know how to jump back in the game, overcome your setbacks and ultimately build the trust you need to get back on top.
I have found the best way to overcome these professional hurdles is to know how to initiate and master difficult conversations. Whether you’re receiving or giving the feedback, you will reap the richest rewards when you make the choice to be open and honest.
The following is a list of insights to help you navigate both sides of the conversation. I can assure you they will change the game for your career.
Tips for Giving Feedback
- Don’t dance around the issue. You will waste a lot of time if you try to put a positive spin on the issue at hand. You have to get to the heart of the situation and be willing to share very direct feedback about the quality of someone’s work or the way the person is perceived within the organization. Even if they are working very hard, if they’re not hitting the mark of taking their performance to the next level, it can shape how people evaluate you as a leader. I’ve found these conversations can actually be the most rewarding and most effective ones you have and will ultimately help you reach a higher level of success.
- Gauge your emotions. I have a reputation for being very direct. There are times when I’ll be very blunt and just throw it at them. That said, I’ve learned when that degree of directness is absolutely necessary and it when it isn’t. Overusing this form of communication can have its risks, so choose those moments wisely and know when to turn the dial up and when to turn it down. The degree of my bluntness tells my team when they really crossed a line. They know that it was probably deserved and that their actions took place in a moment of great consequence. I’ve found that the best way to turn things down is to state your intentions. You can let people know you’re giving this feedback not to harm them but to offer them an opportunity to grow as a leader.
- Don’t over-explain. Don’t make a difficult conversation more difficult by being long-winded. You want to make sure the person on the other side of the conversation can fully understand where they need to improve with concise and effective thoughts. Otherwise, you risk miscommunication that doesn’t fully resonate with them or convey what’s at stake.
Tips for Receiving Feedback
- Own up. If you anticipate a difficult conversation tied to your own performance, be prepared to admit to what you know went wrong. This requires a strong sense of emotional intelligence that will help move the conversation in a more productive direction. You might even go the extra mile by initiating the discussion and schedule a time to get their feedback.
- Welcome directness. Some of the most formative moments of my career occurred when I probed for deeper feedback and received honest advice that was tough to swallow. The best leaders are able to reframe their thinking and use the opportunity to discover their blind spots. It’s important NOT to shut down or get defensive. Be open to a perspective from the other side of the fence and find a way to see that point of view. You may be surprised just how game-changing these golden nuggets of information can be for your career.
- Ask for support. Difficult conversations can often stir up fierce emotions that lead to unproductive discussion. You may not always agree with the feedback that’s given to you, which is okay. However, before openly disagreeing with it, think about how you can reframe your perspective and ask for support. Once you’ve had time to think it over you can say, “I’ve taken some time to think about what you shared, and here’s what I will commit to improving. I will need your support in several areas in order to do this well.” You can then ask for what you need in a more open and direct way.
Ultimately, difficult conversations depend on building trusted relationships with your team. They require grace, forgiveness, honesty and acceptance. Having them gives you an opportunity to grow and develop, as well as to figure out what you stand for in terms of values. This will build stronger equity with your team that will yield powerful results and regain momentum.