Do you want some simple strategies to encourage others to learn — both from their successes and their mistakes? Would you like to help people arrive at their own solutions? Do you avoid giving "constructive feedback" because it rarely goes well?
Easy-to-learn communication skills will help others build upon their strengths and discover ways to improve. Here are a few strategies to employ:
1. Use the right words: If you want to help others get into a learning mode (what is referred to as a growth mindset), the language you use really matters. Avoid words like always, never, only, can't and instead, use words like learn, grow, develop, try out, and progress. The former set of words triggers the brain into a fixed mindset — a belief that one cannot change. If people believe they are really good at some things and not good at others, they are not primed for learning. In contrast, when people believe that there is room to learn and grow, their brain in in a growth mindset.
2. Leverage mistakes: It may seem oxymoronic, but often the only path to learning is through trial and error. Avoid thinking about mistakes or mishaps as failures – instead, think about them as learning opportunities. We all have witnessed babies learning to walk. What do they do? They walk then fall then walk then fall…. And their parents cheer them on. Because we know that is how they learn and develop. So the next time someone makes a mistake (including you), ask them (or yourself), what can I learn from this experience? Contrast this to getting overly critical, blaming, or angry – which does little to foster a learning environment.
3. Always start a difficult conversation by stating your intention: Prior to giving any feedback, be clear on your intention and communicate it to the person. If your intention is not positive, I suggest you do not give feedback because negative intentions are easily detected.
4. Always give feedback that helps others improve: Practice using this communication model — SBI-I (situation, behavior, impact, and inquiry) and you will find that giving constructive input is much easier than you thought. Here is how to transform one of those difficult conversations into a learning conversation. Let's use an example: Your medical assistant gave a patient incorrect information about their health situation.
Practicing the SBI-I communication model will allow you to gain skill and confidence in managing difficult situations with your staff (and anyone else in your life where these conversations may arise). Avoid blaming, evaluating or judging and use open-ended questions to help the person arrive at a solution or lesson learned. You can use SBI-I to provide positive feedback as well — when you give someone specific and genuine acknowledgment of what he/she has done well, it becomes a signal to the brain to do more of that behavior. Catch people being or doing good and aim to give at least five positives to every negative. This will help to ensure that when you give constructive feedback, the person is more open to hearing it (it does not feel like one more criticism because you have given lots of positive recognition). This is how you create a learning environment where employees thrive and your practice improves.
Catherine Hambley, PhD, is a consulting psychologist who offers brain-based strategies to organizations, leaders and teams to improve their effectiveness and promote greater success. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.