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Happy Valentine’s, Boss!


Meet Charles, a partner in a busy accountancy firm.

He’s married to Deborah, a patent lawyer and mother of their three wonderful children.

Charles takes the opportunity of Valentine’s dinner every year to convey his I Love You’s to Deborah and to give her a jewel to express his love and appreciation.

Other than that, Charles rarely can be found at home during the week as he struggles to meet the ever-increasing reporting deadlines of his clients. Quite often he is also away during the weekend, attending conferences organised by his firm.

Now think about this for a moment.

No matter how affectionate and candid Charles’s annual confession of romantic affection towards Deborah may be, could the yearly uttering of positive words infuse Charles and Deborah’s daily life with so much passion that it could save their otherwise stagnated marriage from total collapse?

Of course not.

Well, guess what.

A couple’s romantic Valentine’s dinner over which they exchange words of affection is equivalent to the annual performance review meeting between managers and their subordinates discussing performance.

No matter how positive the manager’s words or intentions are, giving feedback once a year simply won’t cut it.

For feedback to be effective, it really needs to be timely and specific.

Clearly one cannot expect an employee to react positively to generic statements uttered during his or her annual review such as:

“Maria, your presentations are really sloppy”.

Instead, the empathic manager who truly cares to help his or her employee grow will take the opportunity right after the presentation in question to provide specific, relevant and balanced feedback in a way that will be meaningful and useful for the subordinate.

For example:

“Hi Maria, just popping by to say hi.

Listen, before I forget, let me say that when I listened to your presentation given to Taylor LLC this morning, I felt that it sounded a bit too generic.

Knowing how picky they are, my concern is that they may feel that we have not sufficiently taken into account the background story they gave us during our first meeting concerning the challenges they face in scaling their business.

In comparison, your presentation last week to James Gordon & Co was straight to the point and utilised the background details in a more coherent way.

I think that going with the James Gordon & Co approach is the real winner!”

Noticed how specific, timely and balanced the feedback was in the second scenario?

In addition, Maria will probably not feel attacked at all in the second case compared to the first example where the word “Your” was used in the statement:-

“Your presentations are really sloppy.”

When we use sentences beginning with “You” or “Your” to deliver feedback we are often perceived as “pointing the finger” and such sentences are known to trigger the “fight or flight” mode of response that is rarely constructive.

In the second case the language used was “When “I” listened to your presentation ….”

The use of “When I”… instead of “Your” helps the listener be more at ease.

This is just one small example out of many.

The inability to communicate clearly and provide effective feedback with empathy, clarity and care has ruined way too many professional and personal relationships.

With proper training in critical areas such as effective communication, handling difficult conversations and empathy, the quality of feedback can be dramatically improved.

At the end of the day, we are responsible for the growth and wellbeing of our subordinates. That’s a great deal of responsibility that should not be taken lightly.

As Claude Silver, Chief Heart Officer of Vaynermedia wisely mentioned during our recent MARVEL Talks podcast episode titled “Leading with Empathy”, if a manager withholds feedback from his or her employees, he or she manipulates their growth and development.

So the fundamental question is:

Are we ready to show compassion and share our love with our employees every single day?

Or will we continue to share it sparingly like empty vows of affection over Valentine’s dinner?

The choice is ours.

(*) The story is taken from my book The MARVEL of Engagement: Turning Passive Employees into Active Ambassadors. 



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