If you want to know how you can stop being a “dick” at work -- or know how to deal with one -- author and communication expert Georgia Murch is here to help.
Everyone knows someone like this in the workplace -- they’re the big-noters, the egotists with zero moral compass who think it’s totally fine to put others down behind their back, renege on promises to do tasks or manage clients, criticise people loudly in an open-plan office or simply say the wrong thing at the wrong time.
“There’s so much stuff around having difficult conversations and feedback and it is absolutely so important that we get it right but I don’t think anyone was saying what it is,” Murch told The Huffington Post Australia.
“The thing that holds us back from having great relationships and therefore conversations is being a dick. Absolutely. It’s not a male or female thing it is literally when you are a dick it gets in the way of having great communication.”
It’s especially important for small business owners to not be dicks either. Managers who treat staff well, deal with issues in the workplace quickly and professionally and communicate with their team regularly will be rewarded with greater productivity and teamwork.
And the best way to ensure a happy and thriving business is to learn how to give proper feedback -- without being a jerk about it.
Murch, author of Fixing Feedback, says those who have come from the corporate world to startups via redundancy, by seeking a career change or by accident, can be caught short as their communication and staff management skills may be sparse or non-existent.
She says learning to be a manager and leader by communicating effectively with staff can be tough at first -- but where there’s a will, there’s a way.
“Being a reluctant leader certainly makes it hard,” she said. “You’ve got to want to improve your feedback and your skills.
“I suppose it’s like if you have a child and you choose not to be a parent -- and not a good one -- it’s going to be a disaster for everybody. It’s the same thing when it comes to managing people. It’s an art -- you’ve got to learn it but you have to show a genuine interest in the people around you.”
Murch says it can feel like a challenge for small business owners to manage staff in a small team because they work so closely together, but smaller operations actually have an advantage.
“I know working with small business owners the challenge that they find isn’t so much the strategic direction of the business, it is the people,” she said. “Small business owners are nervous at having those conversations or they do them poorly so it actually can really damage the business.
“My experience, because I have worked with both SMEs and large corporates, is that to an extent the size of the office doesn’t actually matter. I think the wins you get when you teach people how to communicate more effectively and give each other feedback and receive it affects the business in a much faster way the smaller it is.”
As an example, Murch worked with a small design business and led workshops on communication tools and feedback tips. After a month, she returned to see how the team had responded to the training.
“A lot of the issues they were having with each other a month ago because they were too scared to say because they are small and they sit on top of each other and they don’t want to damage the relationship, when they learnt how to have the conversations with each other that builds trust and respect rather than damages it, their productivity was remarkable,” she said. “The smaller the group, the louder the difference.”
Murch has many ways small business owners can improve the way they manage staff and deliver effective feedback to motivate their team. Here are her top tips.
Call it as you see it
Regular feedback to staff doesn’t have to be formal -- although that is a good idea as well. Murch says congratulating someone on running a meeting well, or completing a task on time in a casual manner is a great idea. Also if you see a problem, like a colleague being snippy with another, stop it in its tracks.
“In the book I talk about nipping things in the bud,” she said. “See it in the moment and call it. So when you get used to doing it in the moment you are only putting out tiny little spotfires rather than having to deal with a bushfire of things that you didn’t address three months down the track. So that ends up saving you time.”
Learn to embrace confrontation
Running away from difficult conversations is not a great way to run a small business. Murch says conflict doesn’t have to be negative -- it can be a catalyst for a very constructive chat with a staffer. But not dealing with conflict is worse that having an uncomfortable chat.
“There are usually two camps: people who are OK with it and people who hate it,” she said. “Learning to understand the impact of avoiding conflict, particularly for small businesses, actually ends up decreasing productivity and people don’t want to come to work when things aren’t being addressed. It is so important to address it. The majority of the time it is worse in their head than it is in real life.”
Wrap your negatives in four times as many positives
People love positive feedback, and Murch says telling people what they are good at and how they are improving in some way is the best segue into a chat about an area that an employee needs to improve.
“I reckon that’s the secret sauce really,” she said. “People feel drawn to each other because they feel seen and valued, and psychologically you are more open to hearing the constructive stuff because you know you are valued on the good stuff as well.”
Watch how you say it
Work on your tone so that you are not too emotional -- particularly not angry, frustrated, irritated -- when you deliver your feedback.
“You know the old adage -- it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it,” Murch said. “Yes, you need to work on what you’re saying but people will hear tone much louder than they will hear content.”
Learn how to receive feedback
Murch says having an open-door policy and allowing staff the chance to let you know what they think of the business, of decisions and even of your management style empowers them and can lead to a much more collaborative environment.
“When we are grateful that people have made an effort we are setting a great example,” she said.
“My favourite saying about receiving feedback is to be the walking example, not the talking example. It’s all well and good to say you need to receive feedback well but if we are not showing them how to do it then how can we ask them to do the same?”