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Giving Feedback, Avoiding Tension

The cows are shifting in the bails their eyes looking up and down trying to see if there is any danger. They can feel the tension in the cowshed this morning. The milking staff can also feel the tension as well. James starts to help Ali on cups on for a few minutes trying to work out what was wrong with Duncan their boss.

He had come in this morning in a furious mood, he went straight to cups off without a word but with that look on his face that said something was making him angry.

“What’s up with Duncan this morning?” James whispers to Ali. “No idea” replies Ali. “It could be anything? My advice is to just ignore him and keep out of his way”. James shrugs his shoulders and heads off for the second herd.

From Duncan’s point of view, he was annoyed with James performance and did not have an easy pattern to communicate with James about it. All he could do was try to control his anger and carry on hoping he wouldn’t explode at him again.

This situation is played out across NZ Dairy farms on a weekly basis but it doesn’t have to be. It takes time but you can setup rules of communications within your team so that corrective feedback can happen easily, that is without emotion or tension. Emotion gets in the way of the message. The staff member ends up thinking about the boss’s behaviour instead of the corrective feedback that was being delivered.

Team leaders seem to be in two camps in relation to feedback.

1. They either give feedback too fast after the event – Often in anger or based on emotion, gets the situation wrong and often falsely accuses staff. The staff leave the conversation thinking about how the team leader acted rather than their own behaviour with no real shift in how the staff member was acting. The staff member loses respect for the team leader and this approach sets up a blame culture in your team, which ultimately leads to tension and poor staff/team performance.

2. Hold it in or say nothing – The team leader does not want to upset the team or finds it hard to communicate what was done wrong by the staff member. The team leader looks upset or angry but the staff have no idea what was done wrong. The result is no change in behaviour and loss of respect in the team leader because he/she fails to deal with poor performance from team members. This results in the team getting frustrated with each other and tension increases in the team as they try to step into the gap and give each other corrective feedback without the authority. Poor team performance is the result.

The goal is to setup a team where information can flow between individuals without tension or stress. Information for each person to use to improve their own performance. How does a team leader/manager/sharemilker/farm owner do this?

Talk to your team as a group and tell them you are going to start giving feedback more often and that your intention of doing so is to help them be even more effective in their roles and as a team. Components for giving feedback effectively are:

  1. When you see a situation that warrants feedback wait until you are relaxed (if still angry wait…). This gives you time to align your intention to that of creating a learning opportunity (not a ‘tear a strip of them and show them who is boss’ situation).

  2. You are both alone and in a safe environment for each other (very important).

  3. Ask them “I would like to give you some feedback, is now a good time?” A courtesy in that they may have a more pressing situation that has to be dealt with first before they can more readily hear what you are to say. It is not their choice whether to receive the feedback, they need to have it, it is about when it is delivered. This is so they are ready to listen and also say “this is information for you to use”.

  4. Share your intention for giving feedback. Until you do, they will assume what feedback is (often having negative connotations) e.g. “My intention for giving you feedback is to help you be more effective in your role”

  5. Describe specifics, stick to the facts around their behaviour and/or what they have said e.g. “What I have seen you do is….”

  6. Describe the impact of their behaviour. “The impact has been….” This will be on one or more of, their growth, their team, you, the business, the animals, their family, the community.

  7. Be silent, what for their response, ask them for their thoughts.

  8. If they start to defend themselves just say quietly that this is information for you to use only you don’t have to defend it. I am not judging you giving you this information out of respect so we can discuss it further.

  9. If you can lead the behaviour by allowing the team to give you feedback, this will make it natural and take your team to the next level in performance.

Delivered with the right intent, all feedback can be positive in that it either provides;

  • Positive acknowledgement (reinforcing the right beliefs and behaviour)

  • Developmental information (to help them learn or improve a skill)

  • Course correction for when they are heading off in the wrong direction (may well be a blind spot).

Giving feedback, it is something that can be learnt that will have a major positive influence on you and your team’s performance.

Millennium Farming

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