It is good to remember that it takes 10 positives to counteract one negative. Not all feedback can be positive, but it’s important to note that negative feedback has a much bigger impact on any worker. As managers, we tend to be busy and often don’t take the time to reach out until there’s a problem.
As a part of our series about “How To Give Honest Feedback without Being Hurtful”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sile Walsh.
Sile specializes in strategic and inclusive leadership and organizational development. She is experienced in coaching senior leaders and middle managers across sectors including healthcare, pharmaceuticals, education, technology, and commerce within Ireland and internationally.
Sile has an international client base and speaks on leadership, inclusion, and coaching psychology. Sile guest lectured with University College Cork on both the masters in Organisational Psychology and Personal and Management Coaching, is on the committee for Coaching Psychology with the Psychological Society of Ireland, and is a senior board member for a private organization providing services on behalf of government agencies.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I got started over 10 years ago and in a way I almost fell into working with leaders and organizations and supporting them in achieving their goals while also supporting their people effectively. Before I had my own business I was working very closely with director’s business founders and CEO’s and supporting them in developing their own businesses. It came second nature to me to work with people in leadership positions and to support them in achieving and creating the outcomes that they wanted.
Through this work before I sent set up my own business it became really clear to me that people were front and center to both who your ideal clients were or service users and to how the work was done well.
With this focus it made sense to me to start up my own business and work with a number of people in terms of developing their own people and their organizations through inclusivity and leadership.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
In in our company we focus on people we focus on the people who deliver the results and we focus on the people that we work with and by keeping people central to our decision making we’re able to see through the complexity quiet down the noise and make really good decisions that result in better outcomes for everybody involved. As a wise man whose name I can’t remember once said we don’t just focus on win win solutions we focus on no loose solutions this means in my company we focus on how to best support people everyone in a way that there isn’t unnecessary risk and that losing isn’t part of the equation.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
The story that I get asked to tell repeatedly is a story about how I got one of my first jobs outside of a family business. This role was in one of ireland’s top restaurants and I wanted to work as a chef however is only 11 so for six consecutive Saturdays I knocked on the door of the restaurant and asked for the head chef because I knew he was the decision maker for five Saturdays he told me that he didn’t have work for me right now and I said thank you and left. I relies on the fifthe knock that I had to change my tactics and I decided that on the 6th Saturday I wouldn’t knock and ask for a job because I’d already been told he didn’t have one right now and instead I chose to knock on the door an offer to work for free. As I knocked on the door and he came out to see me you could see he thought here we go again however this time I asked would he give me the opportunity to work for him for free and he told me to go and get an apron he had things like could do straight away. This head chef went on to employ Me 2 weeks later and later on when I did an apprenticeship went on to fully support the apprenticeship including financially and ensuring that I had an internal mentor within the organization. While this isn’t my career any longer it was the first time I realized that learning to ask the right questions has answers that the wrong questions can never achieve.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I find this one hard because I don’t think my biggest mistakes just happened in the beginning of my career I think that if you are working towards a learning and development mindset you tend to learn and develop everyday and make mistakes daily. I think the most embarrassing thing that happened to me was in the middle of training a roomful of 45 educators I was pointing at the board and fell over the desk.
What advice would you give to other CEOs and business leaders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?
My first piece of advice would be for leaders to be human first. A simple gesture of safeguarding that one-on-one time with employees is much more impactful than one may think. If a leader starts prioritizing people ahead of the never-ending treadmill of tasks they may even see a more engaged and productive workforce. In short, leaders must be a human first and a boss second.
Another piece of advice would be to encourage teams to unplug. Vacations or not, it’s increasingly difficult to unplug from work — particularly if an always-on culture is encouraged. It is on leaders to set the tone. Employees may often try to keep pace with their superiors, and if their boss does not finish on time or take time off then they won’t either. Leaders have to communicate the value of disconnecting, but also live those values by doing it themselves.
Leaders might also want to establish frequent contact. When a leader takes the time to get to know employees on a personal level, it’s easier to see when they’re struggling. Assuming that they’ll reach out when they’re overwhelmed is easy to fall back on, but rarely works out well. For example, employees may feel intimidated or uncomfortable approaching managers with personal or work-related problems. In this case, you could proactively set the standard for open communications with your staff. At the beginning of a meeting, consider taking a few minutes to ask someone how they’re doing and how they feel about their workload. You might also implement an open-door policy, where employees can drop in and speak with you about whatever is on their mind.
Another good idea is to expand the wellness benefits. We know that exercise is beneficial to our mental health. Between the release of serotonin and endorphins during exercise, we get that happy, at-peace feeling. Why not encourage your employees to take advantage of the many benefits of exercise, including physical and mental? By expanding employee benefits programs to include memberships to gyms, you can encourage employees to stay healthy. And staying healthy goes beyond just the physical benefits. It helps us avoid burnout. In addition to exercise, expand your benefits programs to include flexible work options, employee assistance programs, and stress management programs. Help your employees find the balance between work and home life.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership is the ability of an individual or a group of individuals to influence and guide followers or other members of an organization. Leadership involves making sound — and sometimes difficult — decisions, creating and articulating a clear vision, establishing achievable goals and providing followers with the knowledge and tools necessary to achieve those goals. An effective leader possesses the following characteristics: self-confidence, strong communication and management skills, creative and innovative thinking, perseverance in the face of failure, willingness to take risks, openness to change, and levelheadedness and reactiveness in times of crisis.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
The truth is that leaders are not born with the ability to cope with stress better than the rest of the population. They simply realize that dealing with stress and pressure is a necessary step on the path to achievement and instead of fearing it, equip themselves to make the most of it. One piece of advice for leaders when dealing with stress is to see the situation as a challenge, not a crisis, and to focus on the goal. The next step is to take controlled, considered action. Taking the time to reflect will reduce stress, improve clarity and increase the likelihood of resolving the issue. Another good idea for leaders is to demonstrate realistic optimism. A positive mental attitude that is allied with a realism that sometimes things do go wrong goes a long way. Leaders may also want to find balance in terms of temporarily removing themselves, either physically or mentally, from the source of their stress, which may include exercising. Multiple studies have shown that physical exercise not only reduces stress but also improve concentration by reducing anxiety, therefore leading to better decisions. Finally, leaders should prepare for the unexpected. Leaders are much less likely to be stressed about something if they were expecting it. The trick is not to worry about everything that might happen, but to be prepared for it if does, which is a lot easier said than done!
Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Can you briefly tell our readers about your experience with managing a team and giving feedback?
I manage a team internally within my current organization and I have been supervising and managing teams for over 16 years. The first team I supervised I was younger than them by about eight years and that was my first experience of managing teams let’s just say for everyone’s sake that didn’t go as well as I’d like to think I do now.
This might seem intuitive but it will be constructive to spell it out. Can you share with us a few reasons why giving honest and direct feedback is essential to being an effective leader?
Feedback is a vital part of any leader’s skillset. Project managers, team leaders, teachers, coaches develop this skill over the course of their careers. Not just giving feedback, but also receiving it is essential for efficiently sharing information within teams and groups. Constructive feedback is a robust tool for creating healthy environment, boosting productivity and engagement, and achieving better results. It positively influences communication, team members’ interaction and teamwork results in different fields.
One of the trickiest parts of managing a team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. Can you please share with us five suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee? Kindly share a story or example for each.
When staff members are working remotely, all types of communication are vital to success. However, giving feedback to remotes workers in a virtual workplace is one of the most critical — as well as often overlooked — components of communication in a business that utilizes remote workers.
One important tip is: don’t assume “no news is good news.” Connecting with remote workers is not accidental. They don’t see you pass by in the office halls nor do you bump into them in the elevator. This lack of regular contact can lead to confusion about their status and performance. While the old adage “no news is good news” may be true in some instances, a lack of news or communication can make a worker feel isolated and uncertain. Without a daily smile and chitchat from you near the coffee machine, a worker can start to wonder if he or she is valued. The key to overcoming the remote nature of this office arrangement is to make regular contact a daily ritual. Don’t wait for the monthly newsletter or yearly review; make a point to check in with your remote workers on a tighter schedule.
Another important tip is to choose the best medium to communicate: In a distributed work environment, we get used to relying on various media for communicating. We send countless texts and instant messages in a day. However, sometimes these media are just not appropriate for providing feedback in a remote workplace, because they lack the nuances of a spoken conversation. This is especially true with difficult or critical feedback. For the same reason you should not break up with a romantic interest by text, you shouldn’t criticize someone’s work by text or email. You also shouldn’t reserve phone contact just for the “bad” things or asking to schedule a phone chat will become a harbinger of doom.
It is good to remember that it takes 10 positives to counteract one negative. Not all feedback can be positive, but it’s important to note that negative feedback has a much bigger impact on any worker. As managers, we tend to be busy and often don’t take the time to reach out until there’s a problem. However, this type of intermittent and negatively weighted communication will leave remote workers frustrated and less productive. When you’re providing negative feedback to remote workers, use the sandwich method. Start with a positive, then give the negative, and then end with another positive. The key is to not end the conversation with the worker dwelling on the negative.
And finally, make sure to invite two-way communication. It is easy to fall into a pattern with remote workers of just communicating feedback and moving on. However, there is a lot to learn by opening the door to responses from your remote staff as well. Consider that learning about them, their goals, and challenges can help you better manage them productively. Additionally, you can use them as fresh eyes for plans and ideas you might have.
Can you address how to give constructive feedback over email? If someone is in front of you much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote. How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?
A good idea is to say something friendly. When you’re writing the opening line (after the salutation, that is), it can be helpful to imagine it’s a conversation. If someone walked up to you and dove right into their point, you would be put off. That is why a line like How was your weekend? or I hope this note finds you well, as superfluous as it may seem, helps kick things off on the right note.
The next thing a leader could to is to thank the employee. No one likes a blast of unmitigated negativity in their inbox. A leader could begin an email with a small note of appreciation for what the recipient has already done. You don’t have to go overboard, it could be something as simple as: ‘’This provides a great starting point for our discussion.”
In the body of the e-mail provide direction that’s specific, positive and actionable. Criticism is received best when it is truly constructive. That’s why rather than concentrating on what the person did wrong, you should focus on how to improve. For example, as opposed to “This presentation is way too long,” you can write “This presentation is headed in the right direction, and if we can pare it down to 10 slides we’ll be in great shape.’’ Believe it or not, people appreciate knowing why you chose to do things differently. It is counterintuitive (because who wants to hear how they messed up in detail?), but in actuality, it shows that you have a high opinion of them. It demonstrates that you wouldn’t disagree with them just for the sake of it. Beyond that, it shows you think they are smart enough to learn from feedback and deliver on your expectations moving forward.
In the last line of the e-mail always end by asking if you could clarify anything or answer any questions. While ‘’Please let me know if I can answer any questions’’, might seem obvious, it serves a purpose. It makes the whole spirit of your email more collaborative.
In your experience, is there a best time to give feedback or critique? Should it be immediately after an incident? Should it be at a different time? Should it be at set intervals? Can you explain what you mean?
A general rule of thumb is to give feedback as often as you can. If the person is just starting, give feedback on a daily basis until the person is comfortable with his/her job. Daily feedback shows team members that you care about them, shows your interest in quality, and gives them the necessary comfort to grow from there. Look at feedback as a way of empowering your team.
If the team member is already experienced, give weekly feedback, even if it is just a few lines commenting on something that went really well or reminding the purpose of the project if there is nothing to be improved on. Be careful not to fall into micromanagement. Weekly feedback does not mean that you will interfere with what that person is doing; it is just a moment of guidance and mutual acknowledgement.
If the feedback is small, heed the urgency of now. For most feedback that comes to mind, usually, the best time to give feedback is shortly after the moment has occurred. Why? The longer you wait, the longer what you didn’t share is still affecting the way you think — and affecting the way the other person acts.
What if the feedback you need to deliver is a doozy? An employee really messed up a big project, or they seriously offended a leadership team member. This kind of sensitive, meatier feedback is best delivered during a time when both you and the other person are in a reflective, empathetic state. That means not “in passing,” not hurried, and not as a “surprise” to the other person.
How would you define what it is to “be a great boss”? Can you share a story?
A great boss is someone who inspires their employees to be their best selves. They should be able to identify their employees’ best qualities and bring them out. Additionally, they should pinpoint growth opportunities, share them in a constructive manner and help develop a plan for improvement.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would like to inspire an empathy movement. In this increasingly alienated world I believe empathy is something we miss the most, both in a private and a business setting.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite quote would be: ‘’if there’s a will, there’s a way”.
There has been a number of things that I have achieved and access to that I was originally told I couldn’t. I think when we consider feedback we need to think about whether we giving feedback to somebody that supports them in how they’re going to achieve something or whether we’re defining the limits of their capacity. it for me this quote was about me taking control of what I can achieve and doing so by focusing on how I can achieve it despite the fact that feedback may have actually attempted to put limitations on my capacity rather than support my head.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you for these great insights! We really appreciate the time you spent with this.
Sile Walsh: Giving Feedback; How To Be Honest Without Being Hurtful was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.