Biting Feedback

Posted by jlubans on March 09, 2024


A friend sent me a recent article from the Economist. Entitled Why you should lose your temper at work,
it discusses anger in the workplace and how losing one's temper may be an effective way to move things forward. There is a qualification, of course, calibrate the anger and do not throw things!
The Economist probably timed their article to appear at the start of America's annual hellish rite, the rightly dreaded performance review.
While recent years have seen some side-stepping, if not total abandonment of performance evaluation, we are now told by no less than that Wall Street Journal:
Your Employee Thinks They're God's Gift . How to Break It to Them.
And, the same publication wrote a few weeks ago that: Performance Reviews Will Bite This Year. Be Ready.
So, now may be a good time to consider how best to give feedback and what tools we can use to make sure the message is received and heard with positive outcomes.
On reflection, I could have shown some temper several times in my career, but due to my preference for avoiding, failed to do so.
Two previous blogs come to mind. The first was from 2013 and was capsulated in a fable:
"A dog was chasing a lion with all his might when the lion turned around and roared at him. The dog abandoned his pursuit, turned tail, and ran. A fox happened to see the dog and said, 'Why on earth would you chase after something when you cannot even stand the sound of its voice?' It is a foolish man who wants to rival his superiors. He is doomed to fail, and becomes a laughing-stock as well."
Here is my updated commentary on that fable:
My daughter Mara's dog, Bridger, matured into a self-actualized dog, indeed an Apollonian canine.
Whenever she, Bridger, visited me we went back to our daily routine. She reminded me when it was time for our early morning walk and when it was time for our afternoon walk. It was not much of a reminder, just enough of a presence, a nudging look at me or the door.
And we were off.
In the early morning you would see us, rain or shine, on a nearby forest trail. In the afternoon, it was a leisurely saunter around the block.
One of the houses in the neighborhood had a couple small dogs and a cat or two. Usually I had Bridger off-leash because there is little foot traffic and because she was amazingly polite and well behaved, of course.
As we strolled past the house with the several pets, a high-strung barking erupted. Within seconds a tiny dog shot out of the driveway scrambling after Bridger.
Bridger was un-impressed. Here was this 3 or 4-pounder, barking and snarling at a 50-pound black lab.
"Bring it on" the little guy was shouting, "Bring it on!"
Bridger, imperturbable, ambled along. Then - Napoleonically thinking she was in retreat - he snapped at Bridger's tail. Bridger spun around, opening her jaws about a foot wide, showing her molars. And, her hackles stood up three inches, adding another 20 pounds to her presence. The little dog, stunned, eyes bulging, ceased and desisted back into the safety of his yard.
I like to think Bridger was a little amused.
So, Bridger's display of anger fit the circumstance. She used just the right amount to send the little dog skittering away and we continued our peaceful amble.
My other reflection looks at a mis-guided use of anger.
I made it into a case study of avoiding conflict and how losing one's temper can backfire. It was titled Jack and Jill.
Like the nursery rhyme, it did not work out well: Jack fell down and broke his crown and Jill came tumbling after.
Jill was a department head who had long used her negativity to get what she wanted. Jack was me, her supervisor.
I'd gone along with Jill because, her dog-in-the-manger attitude aside, she and her department did a good job. Unlike some aggrieved bureaucrats, she did not punish her clients.
While bemused, I stayed pretty much silent on her negative views and of her victimhood cultivation. I largely ignored the real possibility that her negative attitude permeated the work of the department and her peer relationships.
Obviously, I was avoiding a difficult conversation.
I think Jill trusted very few people and based on her gloomy interpretations of others very likely had a touch of paranoia.
Alas, I said nothing.
If I thought about it, it was that probably things would get better. Given my strong support for her department and its mission, surely she would gain a sunnier disposition.
Dream on.
Jill firmly believed, I think, it was her whining and complaining that got things for her department.
And, my avoiding a difficult conversation was encouraging the bad behavior.
Finally, I did take action when I found out she had been fudging her production statistics.
Following a department heads meeting about a budget crunch in which she displayed a pit bull territoriality and offered no help, I asked for her to come speak with me.
Exasperated, I told her that I was disappointed and embarrassed with how she constantly complained in meetings. I then asked her since this job was so difficult whether she would like to step down and let someone else do it.
I had no one in mind, but thought maybe she would opt for a break.
Given her probable paranoia, she thought I was wanting to fire her. (I suppose I was.)
Interestingly, when I used the Jack and Jill case study in a management workshop the participants sided with Jill and blamed Jack for the problem.
Begrudgingly, I can see why.
But, what I found a little hard to believe was that they (unlike Jack) would confront Jill immediately on the first manifestation of her whining!
Most managers - not just Jack -have a hard time with conflict; of the five conflict modes - competing, collaborating, compromising, accommodating and avoiding - the latter three see a lot more use than does the best option, collaborating.

*Source: Aesop's Fables. A new translation by Laura Gibbs. Oxford University Press (World's Classics): Oxford, 2002.

ONLY a click away, more fables germane to the workplace :

And, for a variety of insights on effective communication:
Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.

Copyright John Lubans all text 2024

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