Bring Out the Best
As leaders, we are often wondering what the best way is to bring out the best in our organizations. We want to help people exceed all expectations and accomplish more than they thought possible.
Yet, the current feedback mechanisms and performance appraisal processes in our organizations often don’t work toward that goal. In fact, Tim Irwin, author of Extraordinary Influence: How Great Leaders Bring Out the Best in Others, argues that they do just the opposite. Tim Irwin, PhD is an author, speaker, and leading authority on leadership.
I recently asked Tim to share his perspective on negativity and criticism at work.
What are a few things we often get wrong with criticism in the workplace?
Our brains are hardwired to detect anything that threatens our physical or emotional safety. When a person senses criticism, it engages a “negativity bias” in our brains and generally shuts down the parts of our brains responsible for creativity and problem solving. This is just one reason the often-used term “constructive criticism” is such an oxymoron.
Research: Science has revealed that affirmation sets in motion huge positive changes in the brain.
Avoid Words of Death
What are Words of Death?
The workplace, and society in general, are filled with critical words and phrases. For example, in some organizations, the phrase “One Throat to Choke” is used to describe the need for accountability on a project or other initiative. While maybe colorful and entertaining at some level, the use of these words and many others diminish us, at least at an unconscious level. Leaders routinely use statements such as, “I’m going to hold your feet to the fire,” (a torture method in the middle ages) to motivate employees and presumably to get them to work harder. Our brains thrive on affirmation not threats.
Research: Affirmation activates areas of the brain associated with calmness and openness to new ideas.
If we are on the receiving end of them, what can we do to limit their impact on us?
If it’s our present boss, we may learn some valuable lessons about how not to lead and motivate others. If a “Words of Death” culture prevails in our organization, we may need to consider, “Do I want to spend 40 to 60 hours a week or more in such a toxic environment?”
Recently I met with a senior officer of a company who had some significant deficits in “Emotional Intelligence.” I could have said, “You have the empathy of a fence post, and no one trusts you.” Those were actually true statements. Would he have heard my feedback and acted on it in a conscientious manner? Doubtful. Instead, I said, “I know you aspire to a larger role in your company, and I think that is a worthwhile and achievable goal. In order to realize that aspiration, I recommend you work on collaborating with your peers more effectively by appreciating the challenges they face in reaching important goals.” What ensued was a very productive conversation about specific actions he could take to collaborate more effectively. He was eager to learn and not defensive in the slightest. The research is compelling that connecting feedback to personal hopes and aspirations bypasses the part of our brain that stays in hyper defense mode.