Leadership: Peer Communication

Dave Kinnear 1-On Leadership

Have you ever “disguised” your message when communicating with employees, team members and/or colleagues? Some leaders with whom I’ve worked do just that. They are indirect to a fault. For example, one of the managers I coached had a habit of leading a conversation intending to praise a peer with the caveat of “I don’t mean to embarrass you but you did a great job handling that conflict just now.” Or perhaps you have heard the “You’re not going to like this but . . .” and then a compliment issues forth. It’s like that country road where the destination is obscured by bends in a forest. Where are we going with this?

My coaching colleagues tell me it’s about the leader obfuscating the goal of ingratiating us. The leader is allowing us to appear modest in front of our peers. Yet it doesn’t add up, really. If the purpose is to make me feel better, why start out with a negative? Do you really think I’d be embarrassed to be complimented in front of my peers? If so, why not compliment me in private? Perhaps it is to make a point to others that my behavior is exemplary of what s/he expects from everyone. So the leader tries to soften the message by making it possible for me to say, “Aw, shucks – twernt nuthin’.”

I find direct is almost always the best path in communications whether up the chain, laterally with my peers or to my team. I don’t have a problem with saying directly that I think you’ve done something noteworthy. I’m happy to simply state that “I really admire how you successfully managed that project.” Equally, I’d be direct and ask if you’d be willing to share with me what you did to ensure success rather than the more obtuse “How’d you do that?” comment I frequently hear.

Here’s another one from my own past. At one point, I worked closely with a pretty direct communicator. Yet, I only ever heard that he was “impressed by my work” from my peers. It seems that rather than tell me directly, this person preferred to let our colleagues know that he was impressed and figured I’d get the message through them. I did, but it always made me wonder why he couldn’t say that to me directly.

My observation is that the most effective leaders give praise openly and authentically and directly. They correct inappropriate actions or results behind close doors. In either case, they are always respectful of the inherent worth and dignity of the people with whom they work – regardless of their position on the organization chart.

How is your communication? Are you direct? Do you pay compliments without caveats? Will you let a peer know that you admire her/his work without worrying about having others think you’re “brown nosing”? My belief is that being direct pays off in almost all cases – as long as you are compassionate and authentic in your statements.