All leaders depend on feedback from staff to help the company grow, but small business owners especially need this input. With all the hats they wear and different directions they get pulled, important matters may slip through the cracks if not specifically drawn to their attention. Thus, it becomes vital to create an environment where people feel free to bring things up – even issues or problems the boss may dislike.
Liberty to be frank, however, should not be mistaken for sanctioning brutal honesty. Mean-spirited conversations cause hurt feelings, zap morale, and hinder resolution. Make sure your employees know the difference between candor and disrespect. Sharing these tips can get everyone on the same page.
Focus on the good of the company. The aim of feedback should be finding ways to solve problems or improve situations in order to build a better business. At no point should the objective be to punish others or get them in trouble.
Stay factual. Favor verifiable statements over judgments. Stating “We received ten customer complaints this week” promotes thoughtful investigation. Saying “I knew your changes to the return policy were going to cause our phones to ring off the hook” encourages defensiveness.
Assume best intentions. Operate under the belief that every person in the workplace wants to do a good job. Extending this professional courtesy leads to non-accusatory conversations and reduces the risk of personal attacks. (And if by chance you have the facts wrong or spoke before knowing the whole story, you won’t look like a jerk when the truth comes to light.) Instead of mocking someone’s idea as “dumb,” state your concern in a manner that recognizes effort, such as “I think it’s great that you’re tackling the issue of X, but I worry that Y might happen if we approach it that way.”
Get to the point. Sugar-coating raises anxiety and often fails because your purpose gets muddled. Being polite but succinct shows others on your small business team that you value their time and realize that they are professionals who can handle the truth when it’s presented properly. “I found a number in your report that seems off” may not be what someone wants to hear, but she’ll appreciate quickly knowing.
Be considerate. Candor does not mean disregarding other people’s feelings. Avoid saying things you’ll later regret by taking a moment to gather your thoughts and composure before presenting negative feedback. Keep language and tone civil. Likewise, avoid embarrassing someone in front of others; address concerns behind closed doors. Leaders should be treated to this courtesy also, meaning they shouldn’t be blind-sided during a meeting or subject to public belittling. If a subject of group importance needs to be addressed, give everyone prior warning.
Don’t kill the messenger. Finally, realize that it requires courage for someone to come forward with unpleasant news. Take the individual’s comments seriously, but not personally, and applaud his efforts to make the company better.