By Cord Himelstein, Forbes Communications Council, August 2018
In the employee recognition business we are always stressing the importance of clear and honest communication between employees and managers. We do this for a couple of reasons. For one, the employee-manager relationship is consistently ranked as a top driver of employee satisfaction. In fact, a Gallup study found that managers alone account for 70% of variance in employee engagement.
Another reason is that encouraging consistent, authentic communication establishes positive feedback loops, which are essential to the success of any reciprocal relationship. Positive feedback loops are a fundamental concept in psychology, and the science behind them is simple: Give people feedback about their actions in a timely manner without fear of reprisal, and it gives them a healthy opportunity to work toward better behaviors.
When an employee holds back information out of fear of losing their job, their reputation or a beneficial relationship, that tension doesn’t go away on its own. If a manager neglects to engage employees in positive, non-judgmental ways, the tension inevitably escapes elsewhere, usually in the form of gossip, sabotage, emotional withdrawal or, worse, anger.
For better or worse, much of the responsibility for maintaining feedback loops fall on the shoulders of frontline managers, who spend more time interacting with frontline employees than anyone else in an organization. Training managers in emotional intelligence is a big part of what they do, and lesson one is building this critical rapport.
Taking The Temperature
Strong feedback loops strengthen relationships on the whole, making them more resilient to change or adversity. Think of it like an HVAC system -- the thermostat reads the temperature of the room and continually adjusts itself in increments. No matter what the temperature is outside of the room, the inside remains consistent and comfortable. The thermostat doesn’t question why the temperature changes, it simply pays attention and reacts appropriately.
That is exactly the communications balancing act we all must perform when maintaining healthy relationships. Just because nobody is telling you something is wrong, doesn’t mean something isn’t wrong. There must be a conscious effort to cultivate and nourish that loop. If we are afraid to speak up for fear of saying the wrong thing, healthy communication cannot occur.
Dynamic Approach To Change
Positive feedback loops are much more effective at encouraging behavior change than giving orders or reprimands. Take, for instance, Dynamic Speed Displays (DSDs) -- those big digital readouts you see on the road that let you know if you’re speeding. A Texas A&M study found that in the areas they are used, the average speed of all cars passing through decreases by four to nine miles per hour, which can sometimes be the difference between a fatal and non-fatal accident.
Sheer enforcement is never that efficient. Pulling every speeder over and issuing a reprimand not only slows the flow of traffic, it also allows other speeders to slip by unnoticed. By simply giving drivers positive feedback about their actions in real time, it makes it much easier for them to change those actions on their own. Getting people to make positive choices with no interference is the essence of healthy feedback.
Creating Positive Loops
With that in mind, here are a few tips you can use on a daily basis to ensure that you are establishing positive feedback loops that are healthy and authentic.
1. Create a safe space: People don’t care what you know until they know that you care. Be sure to clearly communicate well ahead of time that a conversation with you is an area free of judgment and prejudice.
2. Lead by listening: Sometimes people are secretly struggling with something or just need to vent, which is why it pays to make listening your first move. Don’t react until you have a full picture of the situation.
3. Give feedback in person: Feedback needs to be personal to be authentic. Prepared emails and text are convenient but have a way of sanitizing the truth. Always put in the time with people, either in person or at the very least over the phone.
4. Control emotions: Emotional responses are natural. You cannot eliminate your emotions (nor should you try), but creating some headspace between your emotional and rational brain increases your mental strength and makes you more present for others.
At the end of the day, we help our clients develop the skills needed to cultivate healthy relationships. This is hard work that doesn’t come easy to most everyone, so it’s important to not get discouraged. Be just as gentle and kind with yourself as you try to be with others. Honesty and authenticity cannot be forced. They are always byproducts of a safe and nurturing feedback loop, both internally and externally.
Forbes Communications Council - Resource article for reference