How to Train your Team to have Hard Conversations

One of Sapper’s most defining values is to ‘Criticize Directly’, our interpretation of radical candor. We not only encourage but require our team to address their issues head on by simply starting hard conversations. Whether that be with peers, managers, or clients, direct feedback is the shortest route to a solution.

While feedback is a cornerstone of our culture, it can be jarring for those who are unaccustomed to it. Conflict, for many, is avoided at all cost. But when we avoid conflict in the workplace, we let issues fester, relationships decay, and obstacles sit in their place.

Here’s how we train our team to have hard conversations, give feedback, and criticize directly.

Set the Stage

From onboarding and reviews to a giant sign on the wall, we tell our people that feedback is to be expected. We also explain the purpose and intention of feedback. It’s not about complaining or negativity, it’s about growth. If you, your team, and your company is to perform at their highest potential, blind spots have to be addressed. By setting the stage for radical candor, our team is less likely to be surprised when a feedback conversation arises.

Practice

To get better at any skill, you have to practice. Role playing might feel silly at first but it can be profoundly helpful to prepare your team for hard conversations. Whether you’re preparing for an internal conversation or a client call, role playing helps to articulate your message and calm nerves before the real thing.

Often, our team will role play ‘worst case scenario’ conversations. Having already practiced a high conflict situation, the actual conversation feels like a piece of cake.

Assume Positive Intent

When tensions are high, it’s easy to come out swinging - or at least a little defensive. Whether you’re giving or receiving feedback, remember to assume positive intent. How would you interpret this conversation if you knew both parties had the other’s best interests in mind? This deflates reactivity and allows for open mindedness and connection.

Direct feedback can transform your company culture but for many, this is a new skill. From management to frontline employees, this practice needs to be exemplified on all levels of the company to be sustainable. Once radical candor has become part of your day to day, it can lead to innovation and growth. If you’d like to learn more about how we’ve grown over 2000% in the last 3 years, click here.

 

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