Crucial Conversations, Feedback and Scrum Values
by Olaya Mínguez
Some of the most stressful moments in our working lives can revolve around crucial conversations. These conversations often involve different, or even absolutely opposing views, where a lot is at stake and emotions run high. Feedback, whether positive or negative, is often central to these discussions. And while it may be difficult, feedback helps us understand outside perceptions and can be extremely useful in guiding us in the right direction.
The results of these conversations can have a significant impact on our lives, even on our identity. So everything we can do to get the most out of these conversations, no matter which side of them we are on can do a lot to help our professional and personal development.
Understanding and managing emotions
Emotions, especially fear and anger, can be difficult to manage during these conversations.
We often think that we are fully rational beings, that our ability to analyze and reflect will bring us to clear and true conclusions. So it is often a surprise to find out that, unless we’ve worked hard to do otherwise, our reactions are automatic and we make decisions based on our emotions. In many cases, it isn’t until after we’ve made a decision that we employ logic to rationalize our conclusions.
The actions of others do not create our emotions. There is a whole process between an external action and the emotions that arise within us. Starting with the action, we tend to filter out the data we think is relevant. From there, we make guesses about what is driving the other’s behavior and add judgments (is it good or bad?). Finally, based on these thoughts and stories, our bodies react with emotion.
Although the generation of emotions can be a split-second process, there are ways to improve our responses. On one hand, we have to learn to identify and manage our emotions. For that, we can cultivate humility and be open to feeling and recognizing our vulnerability so that we’re able to strengthen our self-confidence (which has nothing to do with our real skills or abilities and it’s all about what we believe we can do) and self-esteem. We can try to boost our self-esteem, for instance, by being more assertive because when our communication style is more passive we can forget our own potential and qualities.
On the other hand, we have to work on taking control of the stories we tell ourselves – being aware and intervening in the process that occurs between external action and our emotions.
The first step is recognizing our role in our emotions and our responsibility in the situation, especially if we’ve acted against our sense of ethics or when justifying ourselves has gotten in the way of our intended results. Doing so will increase our level of control over events. We must rid ourselves of statements like “it’s not my fault, it’s yours,” or “there’s nothing else I can do,” and always keep in mind that while life may be conditioned, it is not determined.
Learning to identify when we’ve lost our sense of security in these conversations is the other key. From there, we can learn to take back control. When people don’t feel safe, that’s usually when they act out (controlling, stigmatizing, attacking) or turn to silence (masking, avoiding, withdrawing).
A feeling of security can be re-established by using a diverse set of tools, from apologizing if we were wrong or disrespectful; using contrast to clarify what we do or do not want; or learning to define a common goal for conversations to transcend short-term disagreements by focusing on higher goals. Of course, we need to look within for all of this – becoming acutely aware of the patterns of our behavior under pressure.
By working on these aspects, we’ll be able to help create environments where there is more trust and therefore openness, which makes it easy for everyone to take full advantage of opportunities for improvement.
How to give good feedback
Several tools and strategies can help us tackle crucial conversations that involve giving feedback. When approaching this kind of conversation, the most important thing to consider is our presence. We must be being completely focused on the person we’re speaking with. Having a clear intention is another key, which should always be seeking an authentic opportunity to help the person we’re giving feedback to. The feedback should always be constructive, never destructive.
Preparing is also fundamental – ensuring we’ve found the right time and place, we know what we want the outcome to be and what we’ll do if the negative behavior that has warranted our feedback continues. We must be credible and respect the other person. On top of everything, we must be certain that our feedback makes sense – if it’s about something that can’t be changed, it’s bound to cause frustration.
Feedback should be descriptive, specific and direct, selective, timely and balanced. We can start by focusing on what happened, and describe the problematic behavior while leaving all judgments, opinions and any comments about who the person is aside.
After that, it’s fundamental to ask the other person for their point of view, giving them time and space to evaluate the situation. From there, you can examine any contrasting perceptions, while always presenting your intention to help them focus on facts, not opinions. We must consider the feelings generated by what’s just happened. Without judgment, we should recognize the emotions. We also should evaluate the impact of what’s just happened to raise everyone’s awareness of the situation. We then define the request by asking about what will happen in the future.
Finally, we must seek a commitment by helping to define a concrete action that identifies what is needed, what unforeseen events could affect it, and how that action will be evaluated in the future.
What do scrum values have to do with all of this? Let’s go through the main pillars of the scrum philosophy and see how we can apply them to crucial conversations.
Focus. Everyone focuses on the work of the Sprint and the team goals. A highly effective team will always be tied to an environment with high levels of trust and security, in which everyone is highly aware of their actions, their goals, consequences and the learning opportunities that come when something doesn’t go as well as they’d like.
Openness. The agreement to be open about the work the team takes on and the challenges that come with it. Communicating from a place of humility, renouncing absolute terms and conditions and always being open to hearing different points of view, even seeking them out, is all part of an open attitude that facilitates collaboration and continuous improvement.
Respect. Team members respect the skills and independence of everyone they work with. Respect is a fundamental part of any conversation. It means we don’t make judgments or force our opinions on others. Instead, we share the goal we have and make all the information available to together design a solution that will help the team achieve its objective.
Courage. To do the right thing and work on difficult problems. This includes having the courage to recognize our own responsibilities and mistakes. It’s having the will to not give in or settle for a solution that doesn’t take our perspective into consideration or that we don’t agree with.
Commitment. We do what we say we will and work to achieve the team’s goals. It’s easier to achieve the team’s commitments when we get used to following through with the commitments we make to ourselves, which include working on those points of improvement that have been shared in feedback.
Sngular is committed to continual improvement and nurturing a healthy culture of feedback – both positive and negative. For example, “Let’s Grow Together” is our action plan to support sngulars who are in team management roles, so they can help others develop their talent and feel valued. We are also working to implement the OKR framework within the company, which highly values CFR (Conversations, Feedback and Recognition). You can find more articles related to this subject on our blog, such as How to Motivate a Demotivated Team.
- Crucial Conversations – Patterson Kerry.
- Smart Feedback – Jane Rodríguez del Tronco, Rosa Rodríguez del Tronco, Noemi Vico García.
- The Mind of the Leader: How to Lead Yourself, Your People, and Your Organization for Extraordinary Results – Rasmus Hougaard, Jacqueline Carter.
- The Five Dysfunctions of a Team – Patrick Lencioni.
- Scrum Guide – Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland.