“I have some feedback for you.”
When you hear these words, how do you feel? Nervous? Anxious? Optimistic? Maybe this statement instantly puts you on the defensive, ready to rebut criticism from a manager who clearly is out to get you. Or maybe you feel open-minded and curious—and confident the information you’re about to receive is intended to help you succeed.
If you’re a leader, obviously, you want employees to welcome your feedback. And they will—provided they fundamentally trust your good intentions. Because intention speaks louder than words. It influences whether people feel valued or dissed. A leader’s intention drives behavior—both positive and negative—and can boost or break a team and, ultimately, your business.
What’s in your heart?
In Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High, Joseph Grenny and his co-authors remind us, “People don’t question your words. They question your intent.” This means that if you stumble during a conversation (we’ve all done it), don’t despair. Your message will still land, provided your intent is good and your audience knows what’s in your heart.
For example, imagine a team member is distracted by his phone or slow to restock shelves. You know this employee has a lot of potential. You believe in him. Even though it makes you kind of uncomfortable, you give some tough, honest feedback, not to punish but to motivate. How your message is received depends on how the employee feels about your intent. If he trusts that your constructive criticism comes from a place of good intent—from support and compassion rather than from frustration or anger—then your feedback is likely to be meaningful, positive, and productive.
(Let’s pause here to remember that when it comes to creating engagement, giving negative feedback is 40x more effective than ignoring people or problems. And giving positive feedback is 30x more effective than negative feedback. Read more about the importance of feedback.)
Just say it—clearly and consistently
One way to make sure your intent is clear is simply to state it. “My intent is to bring out the best in you” or “My intent is to remind you of your role on this team.” Just as powerful: “My intent is not to hurt your feelings” or “My intent is not to cut back on your responsibilities.”
It’s also important to be consistent in your intentions. If you consciously make all your employees feel valued and respected, you’ll get the benefit of the doubt, even during a sticky conversation or when navigating a challenging situation.
Pay attention to the impact
As leaders, we tend to draw a straight line between intention and impact—if our intentions are good and clear, then the impact on our business will be positive. Unfortunately, it’s not always that simple, because, sometimes, even our best intentions may not have the impact we hope for.
Let’s say you intend to actively listen during a feedback session so your employee feels heard and understood (the impact). Or, you intend to inspire and motivate your worker to put customer service first (the impact). At the end of the conversation, do you get to gauge if your intentions and impact are aligned? Nope. Your employee does. Your job is to be aware of the impact so you can course-correct if your feedback doesn’t land as intended. (Not sure of your impact? Ask!)
If any of this feels complicated, remember this: You build trust by showing people what’s in your heart. If your intentions are good, clear, and consistent, then you, your team, and your company will come out on top, every time.
We help businesses develop strong leaders who know how to drive productivity and retention by recognizing employees and giving clear, meaningful feedback. Email Erin to learn about our customized services and our Leadership Transformation program.