Don’t Shy Away or Risk Cowardly Management

I’m not a big fan of stereotypes, but there’s no denying that a lot of leaders in tech are former engineers–a group no one would claim is known for being overly talkative. Providing frank feedback about technical matters is one thing, but saying what’s really on your mind, especially when it comes to personal matters, is something that you might find quite a bit harder.

Companies have embraced a culture of over-protection, not dissimilar to parents coddling their children too much. You may feel like telling an employee they need to improve or change what they are doing is being “too bossy” or would create resentment in the team. As uncomfortable as it may be, you should consider the alternative. What if you don’t speak your mind and create an organization that continuously lowers its expectations, or have to let these people go eventually?

Breaking Shyness – Guidelines for Providing Candid Feedback

Let’s start with a simple test for how you can self-assess whether you are being too shy. If you finish most workdays with a weighing down feeling about an issue that you have not spoken to the relevant person about. Going around carrying all this baggage is harmful to you personally and for your team. If a matter is on your mind constantly, you should address it instead of brooding on it.

When you’re finally making the tough conversation, do not give in to the tendency to sugarcoat, downplay, and “disclaim-to-death” your points. If something is important enough to bring up and discuss, you’re sending mixed signals if your preamble is “it’s just what I see, but of course I may be wrong” or the all too common “it might seem that you are …”. You are, in fact, more likely to create confusion or the impression that you are not frank. Stop it and say what’s on your mind.

Do not use proxies where inappropriate. When the matter is something you observe with a direct report or a peer, you are most often the person that should be bringing it up and not anyone else. I see clients asking me to try and pass along their feedback to another employee, relying on HR, or other bending-backward solutions. Not only is this immature, it means you’re giving up on the assurance that the message will be appropriately delivered solely to make yourself more comfortable. Sorry, no can do.

Don’t let the feedback get stale. If you hang on to your thoughts for too long, you will eventually miss the train, and the feedback, even if given, will not have the impact it could have had (or at all). Feedback timeliness is crucial.

Lastly, provide valuable feedback and commit to it. Useful feedback is concrete, with examples of the current situation, the wanted future state, and your guidance for helping them get there if needed. Also, committing to it means that if required, you will make sure to follow up on the matter, instead of waiting until the issue becomes critical again.

Speak your mind. Help your team learn how feedback is provided and improve. Taking ownership of this at the top of the organization does trickle down.