A single misinterpreted conversation can vastly impact an employee’s performance. In fact, one of the top influences on job satisfaction and retention of high-performing employees is their relationship with their supervisor. The importance of this relationship makes it critical that leaders are able to communicate effectively with their employees – not only to create a stronger relationship but to increase their performance in the workplace.

Each person is naturally creative and resourceful and has the ability to find solutions to his or her own problems and challenges. Ongoing coaching, along with feedback that promotes problem-solving and growth, is key to supporting employees’ success. In many ways, it is an art form; however, there are a few fundamental strategies, backed in science, that can enhance the experience for both manager and employee.

Maintain Status.

The human brain is highly reactive to threats of status. As soon as a manager walks in the room, a direct report’s status is automatically at risk. David Rock, co-founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute, writes, “A status threat can occur through giving advice or instructions, or simply suggesting someone is slightly ineffective at a task.” Focusing on establishing status at the onset will not only help to maintain the employee’s growth mindset but will also help them feel an increase in status and, ultimately, hear feedback and perform better. Here are some tips to help:

  • Ask permission. Simply asking permission to engage can promote status. Taking someone by surprise or rushing through a coaching or feedback session can instantly diminish someone’s status. Ask, “Is now a good time for you to discuss the project you’re working on?”
  • Set expectations. Human brains crave certainty, and setting an expectation for the meeting curbs that need. Say, “I’d like to discuss the progress you’re making on your project and some opportunities for improvement I’ve observed.”
  • Make it relatable. Being able to relate to feedback and to others promotes creativity, commitment and collaboration. Tell the employee, “Understanding how business results are measured is important to our roles in development, because it helps us align our objectives. Let’s discuss how the project you’re working on connects to business needs.”

Reward Perseverance, and Celebrate Error.

Carol Dweck, author of the book “Mindset” and a psychologist at Stanford University, has spent many years researching the concept of fixed and growth mindsets. People with a fixed mindset believe that their intelligence, characteristics and/or skills are fixed traits and cannot be improved. They are afraid of making mistakes and care more about looking smart than about growing and developing, so they will often hold back. People with a growth mindset understand that mistakes and effort are critical to growth and development. Therefore, they welcome challenges and seek critical feedback to help them grow. What’s really important about this concept is that employees can learn and develop a growth mindset. To help them do so, feedback should follow these guidelines:

  • It’s timely. Provide it as soon as possible.
  • They can use it. For example, say, “I appreciate the way you came in early, kept your concentration and kept working on tasks that were challenging. That’s great!”
  • High standards are achievable by all. Say, “You really practiced for your upcoming presentation, and your improvement shows it.”
  • Focus on the work rather than the person. Tell the employee, “I like the way you tried all kinds of strategies on that problem until you finally solved it.”

Stick to the Facts.

Telling stories is a tale as old as time. The brain is always trying to fill in pieces and create a story about what it is seeing and hearing. Often, however, these observations create stories that aren’t always accurate. In their book “Crucial Conversations,” Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler write that these stories generate emotions and, eventually, actions. When your intent is to have an open dialogue about an employee’s areas of improvement, your starting point should be the facts, in order to help the employee make sense of the situation. Ask a few key questions prior to engaging in dialogue:

  • What did I see and hear, what are the facts of the situation?
  • What do I really want? For myself? For the other person?
  • What is my role in the problem?
  • Why would a reasonable person behave this way?

Strategically planning coaching conversations and feedback will empower employees to become high performers capable of critical thinking and problem-solving. Their development will, in turn, lead to stronger relationships and a more successful team.

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