I used to get the same feedback, again and again, working for several different companies.
“Your behavior is unacceptable. You need to be more respectful to your colleagues and talk to them in a more constructive way”.
After listening to the same feedback several times I started to think that probably there was a point on the feedback.
I was a highly skilled software engineer. I felt that I was always in the top 5% of my colleagues’ group. And I was always looking for new technologies to learn to be sure I would be able to stay up there.
Most of the time I was a nice colleague. Funny, supportive, and always willing to help and share what I knew. The problem is that when circumstances took me out of my comfort zone, I became defensive and for me, a good defense was to strike back.
So I would tell you that your code was awful, or that you didn’t know how the heck to code, or that you didn’t listen to all my wonderful suggestions. All flavored with a touch of yelling and drama.
The feedback I was getting from my managers at some of the companies I worked for was becoming more and more serious each time until, eventually, it wasn’t sustainable anymore.
So I would be fired or I would quit.
As it happens often, employees are hired because of their technical skills and they get fired because of not having leadership or communication skills.
It doesn’t mean that I wasn’t considering the feedback. Not at all.
The problem is that I didn’t know what to do with the feedback.
I felt cornered. I had a lot of pressure on my shoulders to behave in a different way while, at the same time, keep giving feedback and developing other employees.
So, the problem was not what I was doing but how I was doing it.
I got the same message again and again. “You need to improve your communication and collaboration skills”.
But nobody was giving me a clue on how to do it.
The more I was getting the feedback, the more pressure I was feeling and the more cornered I was finding myself.
I was less able to control my temper and things were going even more out of control, if possible.
Again, is not that I didn’t want to change. Is that I didn’t know how the heck to do it.
This is a very common pattern in tech organizations.
When we use feedback, we focus on what needs to be stopped, instead of focusing on what can be started, and we talk about broad behavioral areas, like “collaboration”, “inclusivity”, or “communication”, for example.
So, there are two aspects to this type of feedback, the first one may be; “don’t do this”, the second one; “improve or change that”.
The question that pops in our employees’ minds is, “How do I do that?”
And where you expect to see a proactive positive reaction to your feedback, having your employees talking more and in a more open and positive way, what they do is to try to avoid getting into trouble. And what is the best way to do that?
Not talking at all.
So, when you expect to see a positive and active change in behavior, what you get is no behavior at all and then you ask yourself; Why are they not listening to me? It must be because they don’t want to change.
No. It is because they are scared and they don’t know what to do.
Here is where your job as a leader comes in. Your responsibility is to support individuals to effectively show positive behavioral change and to do so, you need to show them the way.
As a leader, you should offer your employees constructive, actionable, and measurable advice so they can put those into practice immediately. They are willing to do it. But more often than not, they just don’t know how to do it.
As a leadership coach, I can provide you with a powerful method to effectively and positively support your employees in their personal development in a way that they achieve noticeable and lasting results.
The change should come proactive, not reactive. If you can see different behavior than before, then change is happening. If the negative behavior disappears, you won’t notice it. You will be just waiting for it to happen again and if it just happens once out of one hundred, nothing will have changed from your perspective.