Cursor goes course-hopping | Seven compliments for every confrontation

Since it’s never too late to learn, we at Cursor always make time for a good workshop or training course. This time we registered for Professional Leadership: Confronting and Advising. The one-day course consisted of advising (morning) and confronting (afternoon). Which sounds simple enough, but when your turn comes and you make your ‘dummy’ cry, or they annoy the living daylights out of you, try keeping sight of your goal.

photo Tiburon Studios / iStock

In this context, a dummy is a colleague that plays the role of the person you would like to raise an issue with. Today we’ll all get the chance to be a dummy, but first we’re getting some theory. People underestimate the number of compliments your relationship – professional relationship that is, although it wouldn’t kill you to give a compliment to your significant other every once in a while – needs to create support for ‘feedback’. Or to call a spade a spade: criticism (whether constructive or not). If you don’t regularly give compliments to people, they won’t be as quick to take your feedback to heart. And it takes quite a number of compliments too, seven on average before you can make a critical comment.

Start tomorrow

Of course, if you squeeze in those seven compliments just before giving the feedback, it won’t work. So the message to all managers is: start out by giving three compliments a day as of tomorrow. As in: three in total, not per person. You want to retain your credibility. And there’s another condition: you can’t get away with a simple ‘You did well on that project’. No, to really instill the compliment with some value you’ll have to include the effect of the employee’s actions.

Anyway, three a day it is. Turns out I’m not the only one wondering if the compliment should still be work-related: is there enough there to keep things believable? “Can you also compliment someone’s dress or hair?” The question is asked by several people, with a wink and a nudge (not literally of course).

Quit sandwiching

When it comes to a job performance or feedback interview, the sandwich method is outdated: it’s best to get straight to the point. Cut the crap, just tell me what you need from me. I like it. The teacher hastens to add: “And make it structured.” Everyone takes notes as she implores us to prepare those kinds of talks so you have a clear picture of your observations of someone’s behavior, and you’re also critical of what you want to say.

“Is it an observation or an interpretation, judgement or effect? Share observations, give concrete examples of the unwanted behavior occurring and check with the other person if they recognize this behavior. Avoid any interpretations. And don’t be deterred from giving feedback if the other person starts crying. You can offer them a glass of water or a tissue, but it’s important to give the feedback as planned.”

“If the recipient does not recognize the observation, the talk is not likely to result in a solution.” But the teacher has a trick up her sleeve for just such an eventuality: if the other person doesn’t recognize their behavior, point it out to them the next time they display it so it can be stopped. The course also takes non-binary colleagues into account, as all cases are anonymous and we give the protagonists fictional, paradise-inspired names: Adam, Eve or Robin. Which does make one wonder who seduced whom back in the day, but any such musings are interrupted by a member of catering staff entering to bring us cookies. The teacher gives her a compliment and points out the effect: everyone’s happy now. And then we return to the feedback, crumbs on our lips and all.

Almost like people

“If the observations are recognized, you can move on to the effect of the behavior.” She again lists several options: the effect on you, but possibly also on others, on the process and on the result. "Did you see just now? I gave the catering employee a compliment as well, including the effect, and then", pointing to the board listing the required steps in giving feedback,“you work towards an agreement or follow-up.”

It all makes perfect sense, but if you don’t prepare for a talk you won’t be able to get the words out in such a structured manner. I for one love writing and structured preparations, so this is right up my alley. That being said, I do notice that some people in the group get really frustrated about certain cases. It may be subtle, but it comes through in their words, tone or attitude. Which is only human, but can be a bit unpractical. Managers, they’re almost like people.

In the ‘Cursor goes course-hopping’ feature, our editors will take part in the various training sessions, courses and workshops that TU/e offers throughout the year with the aim of allowing students and staff members to increase their knowledge and skills in a variety of fields. If you happen to offer a course, training session or workshop yourself that might be of interest to this feature, or if you know of any such event, don’t hesitate to contact Cursor’s editorial board.

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