Giving feedback can be difficult and emotionally-charged. But by following a simple model focused on facts and behaviors you’ll be giving more effective feedback more easily than you’ve given it before.
If we want people to change behaviors and improve their performance, we have to give them feedback. Giving feedback can be really difficult because we think to ourselves “Maybe I might hurt their feelings…” or “I have to have an uncomfortable conversation…”, or “I’m telling somebody who I really like and respect that they’re falling short in some regard…” So, we avoid feedback, but that’s a huge mistake especially as the leader of a high performing team.
There’s a simple process you can follow to take the sting and nausea out of giving feedback. I’d like to offer a feedback model that can remove the emotion from those conversations and help people focus on improving performance versus getting defensive.
I like to think of giving feedback as a tennis match. You serve the ball to them, they react to it and return it, and then you react to their reaction and so on. The model goes like this:
– First, you’ll ask for permission to give somebody feedback and ensure, at that moment, that they’re open to receiving it. Their head may not be in it. They may have come out of a tough meeting, or they’re in a rush to go to their next meeting. Making sure they’re ready to receive feedback is critical.
– Next, the feedback recipient should let you know that they are open to receiving feedback.
– The next step really matters a lot in terms of removing the emotion from the feedback process. You’re going to offer a fact-based observation of something you saw the feedback recipient do and then confirm that they know the event happened. This step ensures you’re both operating from a common base of facts.
– The feedback recipient should then confirm to you that they recall the event.
– Now that you’re operating from a common set of facts, you can get into the emotional impacts of the event. You need to tell the feedback recipient “This is how your actions/words made me feel.” You might say “This is how that event impacted me…” or “This is how that event impacted somebody else on the team…” And then ask the feedback recipient “Can you see why your behavior impacted me that way?” Hopefully, they can then understand why you felt that way by putting themselves in your shoes.
– The next step of the feedback process is the request for change. Let them know specifically what behavior you want them to demonstrate going forward and ask them for their commitment to that behavior.
– The feedback recipient should hopefully commit to making that behavioral change.
– After getting their commitment to change, thank the feedback recipient for being open to feedback and for committing to the change. Ideally you can even offer them help in making the requested changes. Ask if there are things you can be doing differently to support them. Your assistance will reinforce their commitment to change and help them make the changes requested.
Here’s a handy dandy graphic that represents the feedback process as that tennis match:
Allow me to offer an example of what giving feedback might look like when using this model.
Let’s imagine I have a member of my team who shows up late for my meetings on a regular basis. I may pull that person aside and say “Hey, would it be okay if I gave you some feedback right now? There’s something I’d like to share with you.
They would then say, “Yes, I’m happy to receive the feedback.”
I then offer that fact-based observation. “What I’ve noticed is, for all of our staff meetings this week, you’ve been between five and ten minutes late for each one of them. Do you recognize that you’ve been late to the meetings? Do you remember that you were late to those few staff meetings this week?” When I offer these facts, I’m seeing if they recall the events and ensuring we’re operating from the same set of facts.
They say “Yeah, I know I was late. I was running late between meetings. I had some back-to-back meetings, but yeah, I was late to all of the staff meetings.”
Then I let them know the way their behavior makes me feel. “Well, the way it makes me feel is, I’m setting up these staff meetings so we can all coordinate. It’s very frustrating for me because we have to recap things after you come in the room. Candidly, it makes me feel like you don’t really respect my time, and it makes me feel like I’m less important than other things you have going on. Do you understand why I feel that way and why I get frustrated when you come in late?” When I say this I’m helping them see things from my perspective.
Hopefully they can then confirm for me that they understand. “Well, yeah, I can see that. You know, I didn’t mean to impact you that way. But I understand why it’s frustrating when I show up late and we have to go back to the beginning of the agenda.”
Then I let them know what the requested behavioral change is. “What I’d like is if you could schedule a little bit of slack time between your meetings or maybe not set meetings back-to-back. If you could commit to being on time for these staff meetings, I would really appreciate it. Are you willing to commit to that?” I’ve made a specific request for behavioral change and even offered suggested solutions.
Ideally they’d say “You know what? I can do that. I can make that change and manage my calendar better, and I’m going to commit to being on time for our staff meetings going forward.”
I then need to thank them for receiving the feedback. “Thanks a lot for listening. I really appreciate you being open to the feedback. If there are things I can do to make it easier for you to be on time, please let me know what they are. Maybe I need to choose a different time for the staff meetings. If there’s anything I can do that will make it easier for you, I’m happy to do that.” I’ve offered them assistance to help them be successful in making the changes I’m asking for.
Here’s a visual depiction of a similar example:
As I take the recipient through this feedback model, I’ve removed a lot of the emotion from the conversation. I’ve helped them focus on a specific behavior and a defined change. I’ve delivered this message in a non-threatening and non-judgmental way. As you think about providing feedback to your people, I encourage you to follow this feedback model and see how it goes.
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