What do you think when someone says that they would like to “give you some feedback”? Do you assume they have compliments or criticisms to offer?
If you are like most people, your mind goes in the negative direction and you assume that what they want to tell you is what you did wrong. It’s likely true for you and for the people on your team for whom you would like to have productive coaching and feedback conversations.
As if that tendency didn’t make it difficult enough for people to hear your feedback, most people also enter conversations with their supervisor with just a hint of “threat perception” already triggered before the conversation begins.
When you attempt to offer feedback to the members of your team, you start with a double-deficit. They likely assume that what you have to say will be negative, and they are probably slightly under the influence of a threat trigger simply because you are the supervisor. If you want to give feedback in a non-threatening way, you have to work to overcome this deficit. It won’t happen automatically.
Here are five suggestions for giving feedback in a non-threatening way…
Make it a conversation
As much as possible, engage the other person in dialogue. The more they participate in the conversation, the less negative the conversation is likely to feel. You can create more conversation with them if you ask more questions and make fewer statements. Invite them to give their take on results and accomplishments before you offer any feedback or comment.
Focus on behaviors and results
When you offer feedback, make your comments as objective as possible. Rather than talk about your interpretation or perception of a person or their intentions, discuss words, actions, and results. For example, it is generally better to discuss the steps a person took to complete a project and the actual results achieved than it is to ask why a person made a particular decision or how you interpreted their motivation. More “what” and “how” things were done and less “why” things were done.
Use specific examples
As you discuss performance issues, point to specific examples of actions they took and results they achieved. The more specific you make your observations, the easier it will be for the other person to receive.
Strive for balance
Beware of the tendency to only notice what people don’t do or gaps that people have in their performance. Make sure that you also notice and comment on what people do well, and make your comments about successes and good performance at least as specific as your comments about deficiencies and performance gaps.
Turn negatives into positives
If you will focus your comments on what you would like to see happen in the future more than you focus on what went wrong in the past, you can turn negative feedback into positive feed forward. For example, rather than say “Please don’t do X”; you can say “The next time we encounter that situation, please do Y.” Simply by rephrasing a backward-looking, negative statement into a forward-looking, positive statement, you reduce the risk that the person will feel threatened by your comment.
As with all leadership and communication advice, these tips come with the following caveat: there is no guarantee of success. Since you can never fully predict how another person will respond (or react) to your statements, you can never completely remove the risk that they take your comments in a negative, threatening way. You can though, apply these five tips as a way to minimize the risk that you will sound threatening when you offer people feedback on their performance.
In Bud to Boss, we spend an entire session focused entirely on coaching and giving feedback – it’s that important to our success as leaders! Read more about the agenda and the workshop here!