Eliminate These Four Words To Boost Your Credibility

As a leader, I learned long ago that the gap between our expectations and reality is one major cause of dissatisfaction. As we lead teams, setting expectations on culture and performance is crucial to creating a positive and productive environment. Holding people accountable to high standards from the beginning will determine whether or not people respect leadership.

Culture is big, and it’s gotten a lot of buzz over the past decades. Truth is, the buzz is well-deserved. While a positive and uplifting vibe is the target, part of our job as leaders is to solicit valuable feedback from our team and other stakeholders, including clients or end users. We must display empathy and gratitude when someone dares to bring us something constructive. We must also look for coaching moments so people don’t turn our offices into a revolving-door complaint department. Or worse, a culture where all the complaining happens behind the leader’s back. We need to understand the reality of situations to truly understand what we are dealing with. This can be difficult and sensitive.  

There are six parts to this approach:

1 – Here are four words to eliminate from our vocabulary

Help your teams do the same to keep the culture strong and reduce anxiety for everyone when it comes to open dialogue:

  • Always 
  • Never  
  • Everybody  
  • Nobody 

These words frequently (not always) accompany some sort of exaggeration. Early in my leadership career, someone would bring an issue to me with one of these words attached to it, and it caused a lot of stress and some poor decisions. Over the years, I have gotten good at getting to the reality of the issues.  It would look something like this using a real estate office example:  

“Everybody is upset that the company is no longer providing bottles of water to customers.”  

Me:  “Wow, that sounds like we need to address it. So, customers are upset there are pitchers of water and not bottles?”  

“Well, no. It’s more the staff and agents.”

Me:  “I see. So all of the agents and staff are upset by this? I’d like to address it directly with those you’ve spoken with. Who do I need to start with, in your opinion?”

I already know that the number of people upset is much smaller than “everybody.” 

2 – Get to Reality

I need to get to reality and help the team understand the difference between complaining and valuable feedback. Let’s define complaining as taking a gripe to someone who cannot do anything about it, and feedback is when you are talking to someone who can influence the thing. So, if there happens to be a culture of people going to others who cannot solve the problem, which is complaining, that needs to be addressed here, too. If this next part is handled properly, I can coach the person in front of me to not exaggerate in the future AND limit the amount of time she will spend hearing complaints from others. Here’s what it might sound like with this example:

Me:  “Who do I need to start with in your opinion?”  

“Well, they asked me not to name their name.”  

Me:  “OK, what about the others who feel strongly about this? I need to make sure they are heard.”  

You see where this is going. By the end of this dialogue, it’s either the person in my office with the issue or a very small group of people. And here is a crucial question:

Me:  “If they have feedback and don’t bring it to someone who can do something about it, how does that help us all?”  

Me:  “In the future, if someone has an issue and they bring it to you, ask if they have discussed it directly with me and encourage them to do so. If you do this consistently, they will bring fewer complaints to you. It will give you some time back in your day to be more productive, and the unfiltered feedback will get you to the right place.”  

Some people become magnets for gossip and complaining because they are high on the empathy scale. Others, because they do a lot of their own complaining and birds of a feather flock together. Either way, it’s a coaching opportunity.

3 – Create a Problem-Solving Mindset

Next, let’s coach our people to start thinking of a solution before they bring a challenge or feedback.  This helps foster a culture of problem-solving as a team and not relying solely on us leaders to take on all of it. Multiple minds considering solutions to a challenge are better than one mind.  

“Given that we want to provide the most effective resources and remain profitable and viable, do you think there is some other area we should look at instead of the expense of bottles of water?” 

4 – Check Your Ego

Set your ego aside and thank the person sitting in front of you for bringing issues to your attention. In our example, the person in my office is giving feedback. It is exaggerated, but feedback nonetheless, and that takes courage. Even if it is something that won’t change or shouldn’t change, I was always grateful for the person bringing something to me, even if it was a mistake I had made.

5 – Get the entire picture

Talk to others, ask questions, and get to the bottom of things before you make a snap judgment or decision. We need to understand the true scope of the problem. One-on-one discussions are best for this, however larger organizations may need to survey the team occasionally to get a broader range of input.

6 – Own it

If you need to apologize for something, initiate change, or send something up the ladder for consideration- make sure to do so and close any loose ends before moving on from the matter.

This six-part strategy will positively impact your culture and your team’s performance. Imagine the morale lift and time gained from teaching them to go directly to the appropriate people with feedback. Every minute matters, and this coaching over time will reduce the time wasted on complaining. Plus, when more minds consider solutions before bringing feedback, everyone in the organization benefits.

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