In my last blog post, I discussed how professionals can constructively process tough feedback they have received and the consequences of avoiding colleagues who deliver it.
But what if you’re the messenger? Leaders can’t avoid difficult conversations. Those who do it well build firm cultures where people feel safe to speak up and feel motivated to improve, all for the sake of their clients.
Before delivering the feedback…
- Check your bias. We’re often drawn to evidence that confirms what we might already believe, such as generalizations about the employee’s age ( boomers or millennials) or past experience. We also tend to be tougher on others than we are on ourselves.
- Confirm facts without creating drama. What happened and what was the consequence? People might construct their own narrative, extrapolate or anchor their opinions unless you emphasize that this is a situation that can – and should – be overcome.
- Gather background information. Does the feedback align with any management systems, such as performance reviews or productivity metrics?
- Set up a meeting with your colleague, but don’t cause unnecessary alarm. Tough criticism is best delivered face to face, in a well-considered conversation.
As you speak…
- Ask, don’t tell. Yes, it’s important that the mistake(s) be corrected, but it’s also important to draw out defensiveness by learning the employee’s perspective, checking assumptions and building trust. Collaborating to find a path forward will feel a lot safer for everyone.
- Look for small ways to improve that could deliver long-term results, and determine how meaningful they are to everyone involved.
- Check for understanding. Your colleague might not be able to articulate his interpretation of the feedback in the moment, either because you’ve observed a behaviour or attitude he may have thought he was masking or because he is embarrassed. Can he acknowledge someone else’s interpretation of the situation being discussed? It indicates empathy, if not understanding.
- Follow up. Don’t dust your hands off and walk away, thinking your job is done. It isn’t. Leaders earn a lot more respect if they ask the employee what his or her perspective is on the feedback after some time has passed, and if both you and the employee can implement strategies to prevent a similar situation in the future.
There are as many management resources on providing feedback as there are situations that require it. If you’d like to learn more, two of the best I’ve found are Humble Inquiry by Edgar Schein and Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott, a Seattle based consultant who has worked with CEOs and executives at major corporations for several decades.