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Two-Thirds of Managers Are Uncomfortable Communicating with Employees

Source | Harvard Business Review : By Lou Solomon

I used to show up five minutes late everywhere I went, believing that the universe generally accepted a margin of five minutes. One day a client and mentor named Nancy looked me in the eye and said something in a kind but no-nonsense way: “Part of the image you are projecting to people is that you are always late. Don’t let it get in the way.”

I’ve been five to 10 minutes early ever since.

I have been shaped in part by uncomfortable moments of feedback like this one. When offered with respect, honest feedback — even when critical — can have a major impact on your career and your personal life.

With so much to gain, why don’t leaders have feedback conversations more often? Because not all leaders are comfortable with the responsibility. The fear of hurting people’s feelings and dealing with potential drama and retribution hold us back.

How much of a problem is this, really? A new Interact survey conducted online by Harris Poll with 2,058 U.S. adults — 1,120 of them were employed, and 616 of the employed people were managers — showed that a stunning majority (69%) of the managers said that they’re often uncomfortable communicating with employees. Over a third (37%) of the managers said that they’re uncomfortable having to give direct feedback about their employees’ performance if they think the employee might respond negatively to the feedback.

The survey results also showed that many managers are uncomfortable with becoming vulnerable, recognizing achievements, delivering the “company line,” giving clear directions, crediting others with having good ideas, speaking face to face, and having difficult feedback conversations in general.



Here’s the paradox: People thrive on feedback. In my communications consultancy work I have watched droves of top executives, emerging leaders, supervisors, and frontline managers become enlivened — even honored — by feedback, whether it was positive or negative.

Imagine training for a marathon without a watch, never knowing how fast you’re running other than the possible exception of the occasional “Good job!” from your coach. You’d have no way of knowing whether you’re prepared to meet your goal.

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