When was the last time you wanted to give someone critical feedback at the workplace and chose not to? What held you back from doing so? It’s no secret that most leaders don’t enjoy giving constructive feedback, however constructive feedback can help your colleagues and those you manage to develop and succeed.
While it might seem obvious that most human beings don’t exactly enjoy hearing what they’re doing wrong, the Center for Creative Leadership (2020) found that ongoing feedback conversations can motivate employees, encourage them to stop behaviors that reduce positive impact and foster greater commitment to their work and the organization.
Additionally, a culture of feedback can lead to higher performing workplaces and increased retention. How can leaders get more comfortable sharing difficult feedback? Follow these three steps:
Acknowledging your state of mind and increasing self-awareness is a crucial component of having difficult conversations at the workplace. A leader can start by reframing their beliefs about constructive feedback.
This can look like consciously redefining constructive feedback as a means to support, develop and elevate colleagues and direct reports to be more successful at the workplace. This is a mindset shift for most leaders, who often have a limiting belief that feedback is mean or cruel.
In fact, having worked with thousands of leaders from first time managers to CEOs, most respond that the reason they don’t give difficult feedback is that they don’t want the recipient to take it the wrong way.
While a leader cannot control how others receive feedback, they can do their best to ensure the feedback is objective, clear and not judgmental.
What are the best ways to stay objective in a feedback conversation? Imagine that you are watching a movie clip of an office employee slamming their fist on a desk, their face turning red, while yelling at another worker. If two people were watching that clip, they would likely both agree that these behaviors happened: fist slamming, yelling and their face turning red.
While it might be tempting to call the worker who slammed their fist “aggressive” or “volatile,” those words are not, in fact, objective in nature. When giving critical feedback, it’s crucial that a leader is specific and non-evaluative about the behavior.
In this case, the behaviors are that the worker slammed their fist, their face turned red and they yelled. If we translate that in another way, telling a direct report they are inefficient, is not objective, however, pointing out that they’ve missed 4 deadlines in the past week is.
To stay objective in difficult feedback conversations, leaders should be clear about the specific behaviors they observed and avoid making judgments or analyzing the motivation behind the behavior. Remaining objective will make the recipient less likely to feel defensive and will give a clear indication as to what behaviors need to change.
Communicate the impact
Lastly, sharing the impact of the behavior is a great way to make this a development conversation. Remember: feedback conversations are done with people, not to them.
Sharing the impact of the behavior is a great way to have a feedback conversation. In the case of the missed deadlines, this could sound like: You’ve missed 4 deadlines in the past week. The impact is that we lost 2 clients and x-dollar amount. Imagine hearing this feedback, instead of: You need to be more efficient.
Impact based feedback does more to inform the receiver clearly and objectively versus being vague and judgmental, making the recipient more receptive and clearer on the behaviors that need to change. Remember: this is a conversation.
After delivering the feedback, the leader can have a conversation with their direct report to determine next steps, clarify expectations and what is needed for this person to meet their deadlines and be successful. Impact based feedback opens the door to solving the correct obstacle.
But what about the feedback sandwich? Shouldn’t leaders soften the blow by sandwiching negative feedback in between two pieces of positive feedback? While it might seem like a good idea to do this, it does the opposite of its intent. The sandwich approach muddies the message and is manipulative, as the aim is to distract from the conversation’s purpose: the critical feedback. In the words of Brene Brown: “Clarity is kind., Clear and direct communication increases trust, which in turn, can increase employee engagement and retention.
If you are a leader looking to establish a feedback rich culture, ensure you are giving positive and constructive feedback on a regular basis. Be patient and be transparent – let your team know that your goal is to establish feedback as a norm and know that new norms can take time. Lastly, ensure you are walking the talk and establishing trust by asking your direct reports and colleagues for feedback as well.
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