I recently heard something at the end of a call that shocked me.
It wasn’t a scheduled meeting. It was a call I had to make because things weren’t going well with a vendor we were working with. Suffice to say, we weren’t getting the experience we were paying for, so I needed to give some tough feedback.
At the end of the call, the vendor said to me, “You’re really good at this! You’re a natural at tough conversations.”
I laughed. “Ha, quite the opposite! I used to avoid conversations like this at all costs.”
We hear all the time from clients who hesitate to provide feedback, despite knowing they should. Here are four typical obstacles to feedback. Can you relate to any of them?
- Fear of Conflict: Feedback conversations have the potential to create defensiveness, and we assume people are going to be upset. It’s easier to avoid the conversation.
- Uncertainty about Delivery: Sometimes leaders are aware that something needs to be said, but unsure how to phrase it. It’s hard to find the right balance between too harsh and sugarcoating the message.
- Time Constraints: Managers are busy people, and so sometimes it doesn’t feel like there are enough hours in the day to really do justice to a difficult conversation with an employee. This is especially true if the manager is feeling overwhelmed with their daily tasks and responsibilities.
- Previous Negative Experience: If you’ve tried to give feedback to someone in the past and they didn’t take it well, you’re probably going to be reluctant to muster up the courage to try again.
So is the solution to wait to give feedback until you have a free day, there’s no fear of a negative response, and you know exactly what to say? Wouldn’t that be nice! Unfortunately, if you want to wait until all the obstacles are gone before giving feedback, you’ll be waiting a very long time.
When we’re Thoughtfully Fit, we don’t try to eliminate obstacles, but rather we develop the Endurance needed to acknowledge those obstacles and take action anyway. So then the question becomes: How can we effectively give feedback to team members despite these obstacles?
Designing feedback conversations
If you’ve ever had a difficult feedback conversation, you’ll know how hard it is to discuss best practices for meaningful conversations in the heat of the moment! It follows that the best time to design feedback conversations is before there’s any feedback to give. That way, you have a plan in place for when the moment comes (as it’s generally best to provide feedback as timely as possible for greatest impact).
Want to give a colleague or employee feedback in a way they find helpful that leads to improved business results? Try asking them what their preferences are for how they receive feedback!
Some specific questions you can ask include:
1. What format do they want to receive the feedback in?
- Do they prefer email or face-to-face?
- Would they rather receive feedback in the moment, as it comes up, or receive advance notice so they can prepare themselves?
2. How direct do they want you to be when giving feedback?
- Do they prefer you get straight to the point, or would they rather you sandwich the feedback between two compliments, like an Oreo?
- Note here that even if your employee says they prefer direct feedback, it’s still important to deliver it with kindness.
3. After you provide feedback, when do they want to discuss next steps?
- Do they prefer to jump right in, or do they need time to process the information?
- If they do need more time to process, design what that follow-up will look like. It’s easier to follow a plan you have already designed, than coming up with one when things are feeling tense.
There’s no right or wrong here; it’s all about discovering individual preferences. It’s also worth noting that you won’t always be able to meet their exact preferences, but you greatly increase your odds of the conversation going well if you know in advance how they prefer to receive feedback!
So here’s your core workout to help you prepare to give feedback to someone. The more you train using this workout, the more you’ll be able to avoid feeling hesitant about giving feedback.
- Pause: Take a moment to reflect on the relationships where you you know you’ll be giving feedback.
- Think: What obstacles get in the way of giving them feedback? What’s important about designing conversations with them? How can you find out what their preferences are?
- Act: Ask their preferences for receiving feedback and proactively co-design your conversations for the future.
If only we could find out from everyone we work with how they prefer their feedback. Oh wait. You can! Go design some feedback conversations and let us know how it works for you.