We are approaching the season of performance reviews and feedback. If you manage people, you will likely be called upon to evaluate those you lead. How will you deliver feedback? The tone and temperament with which you give feedback will significantly influence your brand among your bosses, subordinates and peers.
Recently, at the Decatur Book Festival, I had the opportunity to see two authors, my colleague, Debby Stone (The Art of Self Promotion – Tell Your Story, Transform Your Career) and Sandy Jap (Partnering with the Frenemy – A Framework for Managing Business Relationships, Minimizing Conflict, and Achieving Partnership Success) who articulated important aspects of feedback in their panel on Crucial Conversations. As the authors navigated the topics of effective self-promotion and the dark side of business relationships and the individuals who drive them, a recurring theme came through. Simply put, the question was, “how do I positively communicate the negative?” In essence, what are some ways to effectively navigate and communicate feedback in challenging workplace relationships and environments?
As you might have guessed, this is easier said than done, and we all can think of situations we have been in where we wished we had given feedback better.
You probably have heard the phrase, “If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything.” While this sounds like good advice at first glance, if your goal is to provide others with meaningful and actionable feedback, in reality, this advice is not going to be valuable. Providing high impact feedback requires these key ingredients:
- Go in with the intent to help the employee’s growth and development, not the intent to show the individual what is wrong. The feedback should build up, not drain, the employee’s motivation and resources for change. Communicate in a manner that builds confidence.
- When preparing for a feedback conversation, reflect on what you hope to achieve and on what impact you’d like to have on the employee – their takeaway. Practice this!
- Openness and authenticity on the part of the feedback giver is critical to creating a connection that facilitates change. If you start off accusatory, dominating and self-protective, your employee will match that energy. Model a presence and demeanor that is worth imitating so your employee can internalize this grace and in turn model it throughout the organization.
- Invite the employee into the problem-solving process. You can ask questions such as: What ideas do you have? What are you taking away from this conversation? What steps will you take, by when, and how will I know? Powerful questions that encourage ownership on the part of the receiver of feedback have a profound impact on accountability.
Giving feedback – positively communicating the negative – is a critical skill to master. Effective mastery and modeling by leaders can make the difference between an employee who contributes powerfully and positively to the organization and one who feels diminished by the organization and contributes far less or leaves. Remember, a single conversation can switch an employee on or shut the individual down. As Maya Angelou said “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”