The Discomfort of Improving

Warning: This post involves self reflection. If you’re looking for PR or social media best practices, check back in a day or two when normal service will resume.

Change can be tough. Change at home; in our personal lives; with our families. Changes at work is no different. Perhaps the most difficult change, though, is changing ourselves (oooh, deep…).

I try to constantly strive to be better at everything I do. Sometimes I fail, but I’m fortunate to work with a team of people who push me to be better on a daily basis (people like Joe, Michael, Terry and Andrea). It’s a great thing, although it’s certainly uncomfortable at times. There’s nothing like having your assumptions questioned or your work scrutinized and picked apart (in a constructive way, mind you) to make you squirm a little as you realize they’re right.

As our social media team grows, while I continue to learn from my colleagues on a daily basis I’m increasingly finding myself on the other side of the equation, being the person driving others to better themselves. It’s a tough adjustment – I often worry about the risk of communicating feedback poorly to team members, especially knowing that I can be about as subtle as a steamroller at times.

I constantly wrestle with the temptation to avoid giving difficult feedback. I think it’s a natural instinct to shy away from things like this. After much internal wrestling I’ve re-affirmed to myself that I owe it both to others and to myself to push everyone (especially including myself!) to grow. Likewise, however difficult it may be, I will always try welcome push-back from others on my ideas and approaches – it forces me to improve.

However, it’s one of my favourite things about where I work – every day I’ll have at least three or four conversations where we leave the room having moved the yardsticks forward, not just on a specific project but more broadly.

The pay-off of those difficult conversations that we have? We produce better results for our clients. I can see the results daily. For example, looking at the conversation audits we’ve produced over the last 18 months, I see a continuous evolution. The analyses we produce now is a noticeable evolution from those which we used to produce. I suspect that in another 18 months, I’ll be able to look back and say the same thing. That’s the product of hours and hours of self-reflection within our team – and of conversations where we’ve challenged our ways of doing things (and challenged each other) – with the result that we’re better at what we do.

The challenges are two-fold – pushing people to be better in a constructive, reasonable way, and reacting appropriately when people push you. I think a large part of that comes down to knowing yourself and knowing the person you’re communicating with – whether you’re giving or receiving feedback, it makes all the difference. As for best practices on this one, I’m still figuring them out.

How have you approached these conversations? What tactics do you use to ensure they go smoothly?

Dave Fleet
Managing Director and Head of Global Digital Crisis at Edelman. Husband and dad of two. Cycling nut; bookworm; videogamer; Britnadian. Opinions are mine, not my employer's.