Why is it so hard to give feedback?
I recently spoke to an executive who asked me about an issue that's probably troubled a lot of other leaders. She asked, “Why do leaders [at my company] continue to struggle with giving candid performance feedback although they've been given supporting tools and training time and again?”
It's an important question because feedback can make a huge difference in helping your people grow, and your company thrive.
I told her that no matter how much training people receive, it all starts with how you personally view the act of giving feedback. In other words, is feedback a gift that you give to someone or something painful for the other person to endure?
Mindset About Feedback
Let’s take a closer look at your thoughts about giving feedback. Which statements sound the most like you?
I worry that negative feedback will hurt the other person’s feelings.
I know how to depersonalize feedback by putting the focus on results and impact, rather than the individual’s personality.
I hesitate because I don’t want negative feedback to strain my relationship with the other person.
I see feedback as valuable information that someone should have.
Giving feedback takes more energy and effort than it is worth.
I don’t wait for annual performance reviews. I give feedback daily or weekly.
I dread giving feedback because of how poorly it has been delivered to me in the past.
If I prepare well, I can get more comfortable in giving feedback.
If the odd-numbered statements above resonated more with you than the even-numbered ones, you may be missing some valuable opportunities to help your employees grow through candid feedback. Here are a few ideas to make it easier for you.
Reframe feedback as key to success.
Feedback works best when you approach it with a spirit of generosity. You're not being the "bad guy" by criticizing. Instead, remember that you're giving the employee valuable information to help her be successful. Wouldn't you be grateful if someone took the time to tell you what you should know – how you get in your own way, or the impact you have on others with certain behaviors? Convey to the recipient that this conversation is about setting her up for success, and that she may not be aware that she's doing something that could limit that. Presenting feedback in this way can put both of you at more ease.
Use this feedback formula.
1. Describe what you observed the employee doing as objectively as possible by sharing the facts without interpreting them. 2. Describe at least 2-3 consequences of what you observed to help your employee understand the impact of her actions. This makes feedback sound less nitpicky by clarifying what’s really at stake. Your goal is to help your employee see that she has choices — and that there are consequences to each of them.
Seize the moment.
Feedback doesn't have to take a lot of time or buildup. Get in the habit of sharing what you noticed right after you observe it. Even a couple of minutes after a meeting to point out what worked well and what would have been more effective can go a long way.
Giving feedback can be easier if you say it out loud before your actual conversation with the recipient. Ask someone you trust to role-play with you or to at least help you think through what might trigger your employee, based on how you've described the employee's personality. Anticipating the reactions the employee might have and how you would respond to them, will give you more confidence.
Giving feedback gets easier the more you do it and the more you see how helpful it is to recipients. If you usually feel uncomfortable giving feedback, challenge yourself to reframe it as something valuable, a gift. It will help you find the language you need to convey the intent of your feedback. You'll find more ideas on giving (and receiving) feedback in my book Show Up. Step Up. Step Out. Leadership Through a New Lens. Remember that small steps to improve how you give feedback can lead to big results, for you and others.