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Mark gazes outside; he is not looking forward to the coming period. He has to evaluate his team again and hold 20 interviews in 3 weeks. In addition, he has to give feedback on his colleagues who are on the same level as he is. Steven is much better at that. Just as he is much better at everything – more nuanced, well-informed, more empathic too. It’s actually a bit weird that he uses that word. If there is something that Steven lacks, it is empathy. He is also so sharp, so razor-sharp. It’s also much easier for Steven to use those checklists for having good conversations.

Just last week, there was that new message from HR announcing their ‘conflict-conversation-guide.’ The standard way that they now have to use to give each other feedback.
If Steven reads it, he can handle it. Urghh annoying

The door closes with a bang. Mark is startled. Steven … think of the devil… “Hey Mark, that conversation with Susan, have you prepared that yet?” Why did this guy always know which conversation he was most unnerved about?

“Um, no…. can’t you do that one for me?” Steven would say yes, he knew that. Steven did anything you asked him to.

“What should I tell her?” Steven asked.
“That she should finally stop moaning and just focus on the three most important priorities! Carry out the sales plan instead of harping on about it and don’t blame the others all the time! Is that too much to ask?

“Mmmm…sounds like you’re pretty ticked off? Have you told her that before?”
“Yes, so many times…she doesn’t do anything about it…” In actual fact, he knew that this was not really the case. He had dropped a few hints, but clearly telling her, no, he certainly had not done that.

Steven asks Mark exactly what he needs to know in order to give good feedback. What precisely happened (2 examples) and how does that affect you? After that; what would you like to change? How can you help her? What does this say about yourself? Mark suddenly becomes aware of his own personal preferences: ‘I really detest people who do not take responsibility.’

Steven walks away and processes the ‘conflict-conversation-guide’ and Mark’s input. He just happens to see Susan sitting at her desk

“Hey Susan, I have a few concerns I want to share with you, is this a good time to talk?” (opening line ✅) If Susan says yes he’ll go ahead. “I’d like to pass on Mark’s feedback. Steven explains the 2 concrete examples Mark gave. (Concrete situations that can be played like a movie ✅) Mark thinks that you put the responsibility on him and that you don’t want to carry out the sales plan. He feels angry about that (name feeling ✅) He finishes off with what Mark is hoping for and asks how she sees it (end with an open question ✅).

Lots of rules of conduct are very easy to program. Statements can be measured by emotions and responses can be adjusted accordingly.

If Susan had been with Wilma, Wilma would have helped her to react in a more positive way. Susan would first acknowledge and recognize that it is good that she now knows where Mark stands and how it affects him. Then she would give her answer; acknowledge what she recognizes, and admit that she feels isolated. That she feels that no one cares what she does. If the targets are not met, it’s still her fault no matter what. She is willing to talk to Mark and Ben about how she can make a better plan and manage her team. However, she did not know how to bring it up with them because she feels that they have completely had it with her.

But Wilma isn’t there…so she exclaimed to Steven: “Why doesn’t that wimp of a Mark come and tell me that himself…And by the way, you’re letting yourself do his dirty work.”

Steven is a bit shocked, or should he even be shocked? He revises his program. He will never again have a feedback discussion without Wilma present and how was he going to make sure he would understand better when he had to have a conversation and when he shouldn’t? Those people and all their emotions…pff what a hassle.

Is this good or bad? Is it better to leave feedback conversations to robots (Steven & Wilma)? Lots of rules of conduct are very easy to program. Statements can be measured by emotions and responses can be adjusted accordingly. If you are very angry the robot can say: “I notice that you are angry” or “I notice that this affects you.” Then we can rant until we come to our senses again.

In this story “Steven” takes over the conversation, and that might sound a little soft. But the model “the robot as a coach” can and really will work. There is already plenty of experimentation with this in behavioral therapies, it’s really just a small step away from being in the office. This will be our future, the robot that coaches us in a very structured and decent way in leadership skills.

Over deze column

In a weekly column, written alternately by Wendy van Ierschot, Eveline van Zeeland, Eugene Franken, Jan Wouters, Katleen Gabriels, Mary Fiers, and Hans Helsloot, Innovation Origins tries to find out what the future will look like. These columnists, occasionally supplemented with guest bloggers, are all working in their own way on solutions for the problems of our time. So tomorrow will be good. Here are all the previous articles.