How EQ Will Help You Avoid These Two Feedback Mistakes During COVID-19

How EQ Will Help You Avoid These Two Feedback Mistakes During COVID-19

You’re conflicted.

You have some feedback for a direct report. It’s a conversation you should have had pre-coronavirus, but you put it off, hoping things would get better. Unfortunately, they didn’t. Now the frustration is building, but so has your compassion for the situation your employee is working within.

You don’t know if you should hold off having the conversation in an attempt to avoid adding to their stress levels or engage in the conversations now to keep things from getting worse.

After analyzing 360 Leadership Feedback Assessments of managers from over a dozen different professional service companies, I identified two of the most consistent traps well-intentioned leaders fall into when it comes to difficult conversations. 

If these conversations weren’t challenging enough, now they are occurring over the phone and through video calls in the midst of a global pandemic. Unfortunately, this means that the consequences of these mistakes are often magnified and can have a lasting effect on the relationship long after people return to regular work conditions.

Tapping into your Emotional Intelligence (EQ) skills can help you avoid both traps.

EQ Trap #1: Not Managing Emotions.

No matter how experienced you are, initiating a performance or behavioral focused feedback conversation tends to fall into the “would rather avoid” category. The challenge with putting these off, even in the best of circumstances, is that frustrations fester the longer the conversation goes unaddressed.

Given that most people are working remotely at the moment, the opportunity to further avoid these conversations is now even greater. As a result, email after email is exchanged, call after call happens and these seemingly small frustrations start to compound.

Then one day, perhaps because you as the leader are stressed, or simply because your patience is low, a small frustration triggers an outsized negative response. Before you can catch yourself, you launch into your feedback conversation. Suddenly a potentially (difficult), but positive feedback conversation quickly morphs into a negative blowback conversation.

To truly understand the impact of each, let me clarify the differences. Feedback conversations are thoughtful conversations where the goal of the message is focused on the problems (i.e., you are late for meetings). The intention of the conversation is to lift performance by creating awareness, initiating learning, and creating positive, lasting change.

Blowback conversations are ones driven by the emotions felt in the moment, shifting the focus of the conversation to the recipient’s perceived character deficits (i.e., you are disrespectful). The intention of the conversation becomes tearing someone down by making them feel bad, guilty, or ashamed as a way of initiating change.

No one wants to admit to a blowback conversation. In fact, our data reveals that less than 10% of leaders acknowledge or are even aware they are engaging in blowback conversations. Interestingly, over half of the respondents said that they experienced performance conversations more like blowback than feedback (the recipients included direct reports, colleagues and vendors). 

As negative as this sounds, it is understandable. When an employee, colleague, client or vendor breaks your trust, disappoints you, undermines you, questions your motives or performs poorly, it is understandable that you feel fed-up, angry and even resentful. Those emotions are not wrong or bad, nor are they even the problem.

The problem is the timing of the conversation in relation to the intensity of the expressed emotions.

The goal isn’t to remove emotions or side-stepping candid feedback. Instead, it is to recognize, understand and use emotions as important information to help you address the core issue in a more timely and productive way. A quote from Aristotle sums it up well:

“Anybody can become angry — that is easy, but to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way — that is not easy.”

Engaging in low-emotion, touchpoint conversations earlier and more consistently will increase the likelihood of a more effective conversation. As a leader it is essential that you deal with your own emotions before involving someone else to ensure the conversation is thoughtfully, feedback-focused and not emotionally, blowback-driven.

EQ Trap #2: Not Managing the Message.

In other instances, unmanaged emotions aren’t the problem; unaddressed feedback is the problem. 

Too often a leader initiates a feedback conversation, but they never actually articulate the feedback. Instead, they avoid the potentially emotionally triggering parts hopingthat the recipient figures it out. Although this may make conversations less difficult in the moment, it almost certainly creates misunderstandings later on.

As George Bernard Shaw is quoted as saying:

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

When leaders describe their frustrations of needing to have the same conversation multiple times without seeing the changes they are hoping for, I challenge them to check in and ask themselves if they have had the full conversation. Specifically, have they avoided any of the hard feedback in attempts to protect the relationship or lessen the risk of the other person getting upset?

Often the answer is yes, followed by an explanation to attempting to spare the feelings or minimize additional uncertainty in an already complex situation.

Although the intention is admirable, the impact of not clearly sharing feedback often has the exact opposite effect. Instead, this approach leaves the recipient to figure out what you meant and how to be successful in the future, which only adds to worry and stress.

Factor in remote environments and pandemic-driven anxiety, and unclear feedback has the potential to be totally misconstrued or taken much more negatively then the original feedback would have been if expressed in that moment.  

I have heard clients, friends and family members recount the sleepless nights that followed a vague conversation with a boss leaving them to wonder and worrying if they were next to lose their jobs. This being the case even in situations where the likelihood of that occurring was considerably low.

Feedback may be hard to say in the moment but saying it once in a single conversation where the recipient is clear on where they stand and what you expect is easier than spreading it across multiple vague conversations – for both parties involved. 

The reality of this pandemic is that emotions are running high and many difficult conversations will not end on a happy note. And yet, when you use your EQ to manage emotions and articulate the message, even the most difficult conversations can activate powerful, long-term trusting connections. It’s these relationships that will get us through and make us stronger on the other side.

Never Underestimate the Power of Humor

Never Underestimate the Power of Humor

On my computer, you’ll find a folder called “File of Funnies.”

That is what the actual file is called. As you might expect, this is where I keep videos, pictures, memes, stories, and basically anything that I find funny. Some are just for me and others I share.

If you have ever been in one of my audiences, you know that I love to use a funny video, first to make people smile but also because I believe that when we laugh, we let the learning in.

It turns out the science would back this up. Laughter raises our overall well-being by:

1) Increasing perspective and creativity.

2) Decreasing stress hormones such as cortisol.

3) Triggering the release of endorphins, our body’s natural feel-good chemicals.

In fact, my research on exceptional leaders and what differentiates the people that experience higher levels of Leadership Vitality versus Leadership Fatigue, (appropriate) humor and laughter are consistent contributors.

This makes sense as laughter inspires hope, it strengthens relationships, it is grounding in the midst of chaos, and it can lessen our burdens, even if only for a short time.  

I’ve seen what a laugh can do. It can transform almost unbearable tears into something bearable, even hopeful. ~Bob Hope

I have been filling up my “File of Funnies” lately, not just because there is a lot of funny things being shared, but because with the accumulating impact of social isolating, I need to go into the file a little more often.

Every time I scroll through, I am reminded never to underestimate the power of humor.

What could make you laugh today?

Are Your Biases Influencing You During COVID-19?              I bet you’d be surprised!

Are Your Biases Influencing You During COVID-19? I bet you’d be surprised!

Biases influence us all. The funniest part is that we are biased towards believing we aren’t biased, or at least not as much as other people. Unfortunately, this is one reason “flattening the curve” is so challenging.

To address this challenge requires all of us to recognize how our beliefs influence our decisions. There is one particularly misguided belief that seems especially prevalent at the moment. And before you shake your head in agreement, make sure you haven’t fallen into it.   

1) People believe that they represent the “exception” rather than the “rule.” 

For example, on a walk yesterday, I came across a group of six people standing close together talking. As I approached they said, “Don’t worry, we’re all good, we know each other.” 

Because they knew one another (exception), they excluded themselves from the suggested social-distancing practices (rule). 

Adding to this is that we then have a biased tendency to discount and even rationalize our actions, BUT we then judge the collective actions of others

Consider this conversation, “People need to take this seriously; they should be fined for not following the rules… I’m going to call my hairdresser and see if she can squeeze me in an appointment before they close.”

Do you want to know how I know this conversation happened? Because it was ME!

I did catch the hypocrisy of my comment the moment I said it, but it is also why I wrote this.

At the end of the day, it is because we are uncomfortable, we feel inconvenienced, and we want our lives to remain as normal as possible. We are human.

We are also part of a society trying to stop a pandemic, and as the saying goes, “We need to check ourselves before we wreck ourselves!”

Perspective matters. The desert is made up of specks of sand and oceans are the individual collection of droplets of water. We are the collective, not the exception. The combination of our small, but positive actions to socially-distance will have an out-sized impact on flattening the curve. 

And just for the record, I did not get a haircut!

How To Use A Crisis To Reset

How To Use A Crisis To Reset

This is not the time to compare yourself to others, although I appreciate it is a very tempting thing to do.

Resist it.

Instead, use this time to look inside and ask,

“What will serve me best?”

“My family best?”

“My company, team, clients, patients best?”

My community best?”

“Our society best?”

There is no wrong answer; there is only your answer.

My request is to let this moment, this crisis, be of service in some way.

Let Your Past Struggles Be Your Strength Today

Let Your Past Struggles Be Your Strength Today

It’s the start of another week in the midst of COVID-19. I suspect it will feel different, but that doesn’t mean it will be any easier.

This might sound counter-intuitive, but I’d like to ask you to start by doing something difficult.

I ‘d like you to reflect on one of the hardest events in your life (outside of the current situation), where the outcome wasn’t what you wanted.

Knowing what you know now, and accepting that you can’t change the outcome, what would have helped you better cope with that situation?

Now, write down how can you apply that wisdom today.

In 2016, my mother died from breast cancer. When her cancer came back, it rapidly spread throughout her body. I spent the first couple of weeks obsessively trying to figure out how long she would live.

I felt that if I had this answer, I could make the best decisions around her comfort and treatment, when to notify family and friends, how much time I would need to take off work etc.

I believed that I could handle everything, if I just knew when my mothers death was coming.

I’ll give you one guess what my learning was?

I can’t predict, control, or force the future to unfold as I would like, not matter how hard I try.

I needed to increase my uncertainty tolerance and move on not knowing.

I needed to learn to make decisions on incomplete information.

I had to accept some decisions were right and some were wrong.

I had to learn to trust that I was doing my very best, with the resources I had in my most difficult moment.

I did get there, but I was overwhelmed, heartbroken and mentally, emotionally and physically drained by the time I got there.

Today, with my entire business future uncertain, I have experienced the same emotions. The good news is, I went through that phase much more quickly this time. I am more comfortable sitting with uncertainty and trusting myself.

Don’t get me wrong, I want answers about when the pandemic will end, I want certainty in what the world will look like, and I’d love to know I am making the right decisions at the moment…but I feel like I’ve been training for this.

I suspect you have as well!