Mar 8, 2009

Finding fault or getting the best out?

The school system is based on a fault-finding approach, and that typically finds its way in our dealings with other people in business situations. The problem with fault-finding is that it is inherently disheartening.

Nobody's perfect and most people seek to improve their results by improving what they currently do. Fault-finding is focused on the past, and rarely looks to the future. But you can't fix the past, so sticking to fault-finding does not help anything.

Many managers, unfortunately, know how to criticize but aren't necessarily sure how to follow that criticism with steps toward an improved situation. To reach that improved situation, well, you need to know what that situation is!

I remember hearing a speaker ask a crowd of sales people: "Are you ready to bring your business to the next level?" and the crowd roared its approval. He followed that question with this one: "How many of you know what the next level looks like?" Not many hands went up. This is typical of fault-finding; we know what we don't want, but not necessarily what we DO want.

Instead of finding fault and criticizing, it's better to provide feedback. How is feedback different? Feedback is a loop. It's not a monologue but a dialogue. It gives the other person a chance to reply, to push back, to provide his or her opinion when needed. Doing so brings up another issue: ego.

People in leadership positions, but with fragile egos, will not accept pushback. They have difficulty accepting another person's opinion or objections. They won't accept that they could be wrong, so instead of giving someone else the opportunity to debate, they simply close the door to that option. This is the typical attitude of "I'm the boss, just do as I say."

Changing one's away of dealing with subordinates and moving from a coercive model to a cooperative model requires much work on oneself. In order to succeed, you need to have healthy self-esteem, you need to learn not to take things personally, and you need to learn to listen.

Furthermore, you need to focus more on the employee's needs and wants, and finding a way of aligning them with your objectives, instead of forcing the employee to adopt your point of view. You need to demonstrate more empathy. In short, you need to care more about the employee as a person, and not just as another body helping you to attain your goals.

That change is much more difficult to achieve than it seems. So rather than going through the challenges required to change ourselves, we prefer to try and change others... using the same old, ineffective methods.

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