Tough feedback is difficult to deliver so leaders avoid doing so. That leads to negative dynamics for the person who needs the feedback, for the leader, and for the company. Overcome your fear of delivering tough feedback with a few simple techniques.
Beth is an employee who toggles between meets expectations and underperforming. Over the course of 4 years, she has been bounced around internally from one team to the next – working for 3 different teams altogether. Yet she has not been provided much clarity about why. First, she was told that her strengths would be better leveraged in a role that was not customer-facing. Next, she was informed that she would be more successful assisting another team. The third time she was moved, Beth learned that a different team needed her skills.
When I met with her, she described feeling bounced around like a beach ball, not sure where she’d end up next.
In fact, Beth was underperforming. Yet instead of saying so, her colleagues passed her along from one team to another hoping someone else would have the courage to deal with the situation more effectively.
How often do we buffer others – and ourselves – from this type of situation, holding back
valid and useful information and giving messages that are diluted at best?
Too often to count.
That’s because honest feedback is difficult – even painful – to give and to receive. It’s so much easier to shirk these uncomfortable situations by just avoiding them.
In a dynamic I call the “Feedback Trifecta,” the skills needed to give feedback are underdeveloped, leaders responsible for delivering the feedback lack the courage to do it, and the typical workplace environment unknowingly and sometimes knowingly promotes avoiding honest and open communication. And organizations pay for it, since avoidance merely causes problems to fester and resentment to grow. Teams and entire companies can become feedback-resistant, and will inevitably suffer.
The Feedback Trifecta, which I discuss in more detail in my new book, The Courageous Leader, shows up in organizations of all shapes and sizes.
Think about how much energy we waste by skirting around the real issue. Often, when we choose to withhold feedback we think we are being nice or diplomatic, but in reality, were just being flat out scaredy pants. Because no matter how you cut it, there will be pain when giving feedback. In the case of Beth, we might be tempted to say, “Beth, mostly you’re doing well just step it up a bit.”
Yet the true irony is withholding feedback from people who would otherwise benefit from it is not a nice thing to do. Without it we give others a false sense of security in their less than desirable performance.
To overcome the fear of giving feedback and communicate better as a leader, we must first recognize that feedback can cause pain – and learn to accept that pain. Then, we must
say what needs to be said in way that enables others to hear it, with respect and concern for the person on the receiving end.
With Beth, for example, we might say, “Beth, I care about your success so it’s important to me that we talk about some of the things happening right now around your performance. In the past you’ve struggled with consistently meeting expectations. You’ll hit a deadline or meet a commitment once, maybe even twice, then fall back into a pattern of missing deadlines and commitments. As a result, I can’t be sure I can count on you to come through on the next commitment. Others who are interdependent on you to deliver on their commitments feel similar and continue to share their disappointment with me. This is a pattern that has to stop. Can you help me understand how you see it?
Giving honest feedback takes courage. The choice we have is to shy away from it, provide it haphazardly or give it skillfully and courageously.
– Angela Sebaly, author of The Courageous Leader (CLICK HERE to get your copy), is co-founder and CEO of the firm Personify Leadership, a training provider. Formerly the Vice President of Leadership Development for a global oil, gas and chemicals inspection company, Angela also serves as principle consultant for the firm Invested Leadership, a training provider. An entrepreneur developing a global presence, Angela has been coaching, facilitating and leading teams and organizations for over two decades.
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