I Wanna Dance with Somebody – Candid Communication

I love to dance. I’m not good at it, but I love to take a spin around the dance floor.  I prefer Swing and Salsa, which requires me to dance with a partner, ideally one that can play the lead role.  It is through very subtle hand gestures and movements that I know where to go and what to do next. But when we get it right, it is golden. Feeling the beat of the music and twirling around the dance floor brings me complete joy.   To dance well, I need to be able to “listen” to the “feedback” the lead is giving me so that we can dance in sync. Those subtle cues are the key to excellent partner dancing. When I dance consistently with the same partner, I trust their ability to lead and that they will lead me in the right direction, not spinning me into another couple on the dance floor or dropping me during a lift.

My love of Salsa started during a trip to Havana, Cuba when I was working with Netflix. The culture in Havana, from what I observed, is that when you hear music, you start to move. Walking along the Malecon with the waves crashing and the sun setting, you are suddenly and enthusiastically approached for some impromptu dancing. This means grasping the cues from dancers with whom you have not built trust. I need to listen more closely for those cues, I will probably mess up a few times, and the lead will have to be a stronger, less subtle lead.  In the beginning, they need to tell or show me directly what the basic step is.

I learned to dance from other dancers who were willing to teach me and give me feedback. They would tell me what I was doing wrong and let me try again. After the first dance, where I stumbled around, forgot the steps, or stepped on their toes, they didn’t take the easy way out to dance with a new partner.  They took the time to invest in me, creating a dance partner they could trust in the future.

In leadership, it is our responsibility to make an investment in others. As a teammate, it is our opportunity to develop and support other team members. You may be amazed to see the potential of others through the investment you make in them.  But let’s take this conversation off the dance floor.

I call on all Leaders to foster a culture of candid feedback in their organizations. I learned the true value of this while at Netflix. Experiencing a work environment with honest feedback forced me to reflect on the frustrations and missed opportunities I had experienced prior. One large company I worked with would avoid direct feedback, talking about people rather than TO people. Let’s call the company “XYZ.” Rather than manage performance directly and honestly, people were let go as part of Reductions in Force, never fully understanding why they were on the lay-off list.

Three reasons why this matters:

  1. XYZ leaders didn’t invest talent in a way that enabled them to understand who could continue an grow and develop with the right coaching. They may have had the future winner of “Dancing with the Stars” on their team but had no idea.
  2. XYZ created a culture, though unintended, of politics and fear. People could not trust their leaders or peers to tell them what they needed to hear to succeed.  Because healthy feedback wasn’t modeled by leaders, employees would gossip, and toxicity spread and nobody was willing to speak up to stop it.
  3. Impacted employees lost an opportunity to learn. While their job with XYZ ended, there would be future jobs. Without understanding how they could have brought increased value to the organization, they can’t apply that knowledge to future positions.

Learning to Lead the Dance

Leaders, and even peers, can learn to lead in a way that increases the value of the whole team.

  • When someone comes to you to complain, or raise a concern about another employee or department, learn to ask a very important question: What did they say when you told them?”  This is critical in building a healthy team dynamic.  Who do you trust most in a group, the person talking to others and having a good laugh about the strawberry seed stuck between your teeth or the person who tells you directly, so you can fix it?  As a leader, it is also essential to understand attempts to resolve the conflict before forming a response or reaction to what you are hearing.
  • Model the behavior you want to see. Would you prefer a colleague address a concern with you or take it up the chain?  Suppose you have made a mistake or have a blind spot. Would you like others to assume good intent but be willing to have a crucial conversation with you to better understand and, ideally, resolve the conflict or perception before escalation is initiated?  This is a topic that I love to discuss with CEOs and senior leaders, who often struggle with this idea. It often results in a fun debate that hopefully makes us all stronger.
  • Learn how to give AND receive feedback constructively.   Yes, there is a “wrong and right” way to do this, and it is situational. Help your entire organization learn this, but don’t skip the C-Suite. If your executives cannot give and receive feedback well, your organization will not successfully build that muscle. Leaders need to be willing to show vulnerability and a willingness to grow. The amazing success they have had in their career doesn’t translate directly into being great senior leaders of others. This may be the point in your career where you can benefit from feedback the most.

At the best companies, employees do not all sing the same note or dance to the same beat, nor would we want them to!  It is of utmost importance for individuals, teams, and organizations to provide honest and candid feedback. Despite the potential discomfort that may arise from difficult conversations and criticism, it is essential to foster growth and improvement. Honest and candid feedback helps bridge communication gaps between parties, makes mistakes easier to identify, encourages creative problem-solving, encourages open dialogue, and builds trust.

Building the muscle to participate in Candid Feedback and Crucial Conversations takes effort.

I can help! Please get in touch with me at 925-663-8672

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