Employers are questioning young people’s resilience for today’s workplace. How fair is it? One school of thought is that they have the equivalent of a boxer’s glass jaw, have grown up mollycoddled and can’t hack it. The alternative view is that young people have had a rotten deal in a post-recession world and they want something different from the late 20th Century model of being managed. Employers and young people are both unhappy with the status quo. This mismatch of expectations plays out in myriad ways, for example, in how tough love is being used by managers and is perceived by young employees. Building emotional intelligence capability in young people can help.

Feedback on personal performance is part and parcel of most jobs. The benefits depend on how well it is given, how well you receive it, and the extent you take actions and they have a positive impact. Managers struggle with performance conversations and it’s a common development area. Employees also need to be able to receive feedback well. Done badly and badly handled is a toxic mix.

Honest and Caring

On the job learning happens when things go wrong or you fall short because of inexperience or lack of confidence. A good manager helps you develop and grow when you don’t know what you don’t know. Part of that involves feedback on your performance – what you do well and need to do better or differently. They are honest about what they expect from you and the realities of the job. It’s tough to hear, especially if you’re not used to it. Yet, tough love means being straight, not being mean. It’s having your best interests at heart. The aim is motivational, to test you out and to prompt a positive reaction. ‘Let’s learn from this and go again. I know you can do it and I’m here to help.’

7 ways to respond to genuine tough love

Managing yourself well is part of emotional intelligence. Here are ways to respond to genuine tough love from your manager:

  • Listen to understand first. You cannot hear if you are preparing to defend your position at the same time.
  • Be open-minded. What is demonstrably true? Does the specific evidence given about your performance stack up?
  • Look at it from the other person’s perspective. What would you say if you were in their shoes?
  • Pause before replying. Managing strong emotions is hardest in the first few seconds, the danger zone for uncontrolled and unhelpful reactions that you later regret.
  • Recognise your feelings. Are you angry, upset, surprised, flushed, composed or indifferent? What is your body language telling you? Use that self-awareness to inform how you respond.
  • Acknowledge the feedback. Summarising it back allows you to hear it in your own voice. It gives you space to think rationally.  ‘Can I check my understanding? So what you’re saying is…’
  • Take it on the chin. ‘I accept what you say and I’m grateful for your honesty with me. I want to learn and improve and I’d like to talk about how I can do that with your support.’

The culture of an organisation is heavily influenced by behaviours. It is not tough love when your manager blames or patronises you, vents their own frustrations, looks after their own back, uses their status or position to belittle you and doesn’t support you with information, resources, training or coaching. It’s sink or swim without explanation or genuine care for you as a person. ‘Man up or else’. I’ve come across that kind of lack of emotional intelligence plenty of times in predominantly middle-aged male, hierarchical, highly-directive, results-are-all-that-matter organisational cultures. And we wonder why employee engagement is at an all-time low.

Responding to phoney tough love

Use your emotional intelligence if feedback is badly done and tough love masks a poor manager by:

  • Being assertive. Own your thoughts and feelings. ‘When you talk to me in that way, it makes me feel….’  If you disagree with the feedback, say so and back up your argument with specific evidence. Calmly say what you believe and want. Stay in tune with your personal values.
  • Asking questions. ‘How does your feedback help me to improve?’ ‘How will you help me develop?’ ‘What works for you?’, ‘How can I help you?’

Poor managers are one of the main reasons why people leave organisations. Your attitude and behaviours are within your control alone. Develop your emotional intelligence by managing yourself well through conscious practice. Then there’s a better chance of influencing your manager’s attitude and behaviours even if you can’t control them – that’s their responsibility.

If things don’t change, remember, it’s more about your manager than it is about you. Choose to make a change internally or externally, but give it a go first. Effective relationships at work are a win-win because you are more likely to stay and develop and the organisation has a more productive and engaged employee.