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Bridging The Perception Gap

Strategies for Closing the Perception Gap with Employees

· Coaching,Listening,Leadership,clarity

Bridging the Perception Gap: Strategies for Closing the Perception Gap with Employees

I have encountered a recurring question this month from two coachees: “How can I motivate an employee who sees themselves as a high performer but is resistant to feedback on areas for improvement? My aim is to inspire and uplift, rather than demoralise”. Both managers have attempted various strategies, including spending regular time, setting KPIs, offering feedback, and assisting with workloads. However, these efforts have not yielded the desired results, leading to defensive and emotional responses from the employees. In some cases, managers have even been accused of demotivating rather than motivating. Unfortunately, this left these managers thinking they needed to micromanage to get the results. This has prompted a reevaluation of their approach, as they know micromanagement is not a sustainable solution for employee engagement and inspiration.

Strategies for Managers:

1. Have I Clearly Communicated Expectations?

• I often find that a great starting point is to clarify with the employee that they are clear on what’s expected of them. In my experience managers think they have communicated their expectations but rarely follow up with the employee to make sure there is alignment and understanding.

• Begin by ensuring that the employee fully understands what is expected of them. This involves not only stating the expectations but also confirming alignment and comprehension. I would ask them “What do you think I expect from you in the next xxx period?” To find out about their understanding of your expectations for the upcoming period and clarify any discrepancies. Outline what constitutes excellence, completion, and what isn't a concern.

• Additionally, inquire about the employee's expectations of you, allowing them to express any support needs and defining your role in achieving goals. This creates a platform for timely and constructive feedback.

2. How Might I Be Contributing to this Situation?

• In any relationship dynamic we must acknowledge our part in it. Stepping back and asking ourselves how we are showing up can provide some helpful perspectives.

• Reflect on your own role in the dynamic. Acknowledge emotional triggers and potential biases. In difficult situations like these, it's common for us as managers to experience a strong emotional response. This often arises from disparities in our beliefs and values compared to those of our employees. We may find it challenging to comprehend their perspective. Consequently, this can lead us into unconstructive thought patterns, and we might react out of frustration. A useful framework for understanding how we, as managers, might inadvertently contribute to such dynamics is the Drama Triangle. The Conscious Leadership Group has created a video on the Drama Triangle, which offers insights into how managers can step out of this cycle and unproductive roles and assume more constructive roles to facilitate progress.

• Consider whether judgmental tendencies or a lack of open listening might hinder effective communication. Avoid prematurely categorising employees as problems to be fixed, and instead, focus on deeper, nonjudgmental listening.

• Recognise instances where well-intentioned actions may inadvertently discourage or accidentally diminish team members. Be mindful of tendencies such as attempting to resolve issues on behalf of employees, which may hinder their personal growth. At times, we may have blind spots regarding how our well-meaning actions as a manager could inadvertently be discouraging and demotivating our team members. In her book "Multipliers," Liz Wiseman discusses behaviors of managers that unintentionally diminish their team's potential, despite having positive intentions.

3. Do I Understand How to Support an Employee Feeling Threatened?

• When an employee is behaving defensively their brains have triggered the threat response

• Recognise when an employee is responding defensively due to feeling threatened. Create a psychologically safe environment to facilitate a shift from a defensive stance to a more receptive one.

• Utilise the SCARF model, based on neuroscience, to diagnose and support employees who may be feeling threatened and defensive. This is a great tool to help us understand what might be triggering that threat response as we are not all triggered in the same way. The SCARF model identifies 5 different categories that can trigger a threat response.

4. How Can I Improve Feedback Effectiveness?

• Establish clear expectations regarding feedback before delivering it. Seek agreement on guidelines for giving and receiving feedback. For instance, I know of a manager who openly communicated their preference for regular feedback from their team and then invited each team member to express how they preferred to receive feedback. This not only established the expectation of regular feedback but also individualised how it would be delivered.

• Encourage open discussions about feedback preferences, openly communicate their preference for regular feedback and invite team members to share their own preferences.

• Refer to Kim Scott's book "Radical Candor" for further insights on providing effective feedback.

5. How Can I Bridge the Perception Gap without Demoralising?

• Focus feedback on specific skills rather than general behaviors, emphasising the critical abilities for success in the role. In my experience, when I inquire about the most vital skills for success in a particular role, employees often compile a different list than mine. In such cases, coaching may be necessary to realign their perspective.

• Engage employees in self-assessment regarding these skills to gain valuable insights into their perspective and create a constructive starting point for coaching and development.

Navigating the perception gap between an employee's self-assessment and a manager's evaluation is a crucial aspect of effective leadership. By employing thoughtful strategies, managers can uplift and motivate their team members rather than inadvertently demoralize them. Open dialogue, empathy, and a commitment to mutual understanding are key to bridging this gap and fostering a culture of continuous improvement and success.