Bosses behaving badly: the coach’s view in FMJ

David_KentishDave Kentish’s response to the question below originally appeared in FMJ.

We are often told how important it is to provide timely and constructive feedback to people. However, what tips do you have for providing feedback to your boss when they are behaving in a way that you find unhelpful or inappropriate?

THE COACH’S VIEW: DAVID KENTISH, 
DIRECTOR & CO FOUNDER KENTISH AND CO

Feedback is one of the essential elements of good communication in any relationship, personal or professional. It can build, or lose, trust quickly. Feedback is about clear communication. It’s also a reflection of your company culture.

In my corporate life, I have witnessed many times feedback being delivered to someone in the middle of a corridor in an aggressive, accusatory and threatening manner, as if the person delivering it wanted an audience to demonstrate how strong and in charge they are.

In my formative years I watched this behaviour from the senior people around me and allowed myself to be influenced by it. I thought that this was the way to act and on occasions I became that person. I remember afterwards that I did not feel strong and in charge. Actually I felt out of control and weak at I wasn’t able to control my emotions. ‘If I felt that, then would others delivering feedback in this manner also feel the same? Would the person on the receiving end, as well as feeling embarrassed and intimidated, also have an awareness of my inner state?

I learnt many years ago how destructive feedback can be when delivered in completely the wrong way. I have also learnt that feedback delivered in the right way can be life and career enhancing for both parties.

The first thing to point out is that most people find giving feedback difficult especially when it is critical of what someone has done or not done. But difficult conversations have to be had if there is to be improvement in the processes and in teams working together.

Feedback also comes under the heading of ‘difficult conversations’ and difficult conversations normally focus on the person and not the problem or behaviour displayed. What you say may be taken personally. So relate the feedback to the effect it is having on you and the business. The reason many workplace disputes occur is because of poor communication and not having an honest and open conversation with someone when it is necessary.

Feedback must always be relevant to the situation, timely, delivered constructively and must be a two way process.

So how do you start to have this feedback session with your boss?

If you feel that things need to be said that are important to you, then request a meeting. Make sure you have somewhere private to talk, as you don’t want to have these conversations out in the open. If you are instigating it you need to be able to control it, especially if you work in an open plan environment where people might be walking past and hear parts of the conversation or stop to chat!

Get straight to the point. Don’t indulge in small talk otherwise your boss may think it is a normal conversation. The most direct approach is appropriate, without being accusatory or aggressive. So start the conversation with, for example: ‘The reason I’ve asked to see you is, I need to let you know that when you do or say such and such a thing, it really affects me. Could we please talk it through?’ Or: ‘I need to understand why you made such and such a decision’.

Now I cannot write this article focusing on just giving feedback on workplace problems and issues without exemplifying the benefits of giving feedback on things that have been done well. Positive feedback to your boss helps them to know that they are doing the right things and to do more of it.

Feedback is a two-way thing. So, whether you are giving feedback to your boss or they to you, you can’t expect people to understand how to do it well unless they first understand more about themselves and others. I would recommend for anyone wanting to gain a deeper understanding of the power of clear communication to take a self-development programme or an NLP course.

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