Your Baby is Ugly! Overcoming the Fear of Feedback, Part II

My last post dealt with receiving constructive feedback. Now let’s switch sides and deal with it from the giver’s perspective.

Do you know which form of feedback is most prevalent in many organizations today?

Silence.

We’re very good about saying nothing when someone messes up. And when we remain silent, the message we’re sending is loud and clear: Your behavior is fine just the way it is.

It’s not that we don’t know what to say or how to say it. If you Google “feedback,” all that you need to know will come pouring out of your computer. (Alas, in a moment, I’m going to add to the deluge!)

We know what we should do, but we still don’t do it. Why? I think it’s partly because we don’t want to inflict pain on others. (Remember, the message you are sending is that “your baby is ugly.”) But I also think it’s because managers are unskilled in this area. They just haven’t had enough practice to get better at it.

Giving feedback is a communication skill that can be developed through practice. First, my own two cents on feedback and then some ways in which you can start building your skills.

Definition: Constructive Feedback is information about a person’s performance or behavior intentionally delivered to that person to facilitate change or improvement.

Goal: To help the person understand and accept the impact of his or her behavior on self or others. It is not to change the person’s behavior or to give advice. Any behavior change is up to the recipient. In other words, feedback cannot be forced upon the person, it must be voluntarily accepted.

The Feedback Conversation: Here’s a 4-step process to help you structure your feedback conversation.

  1. Ask the person if it’s okay to give feedback. Remember that the purpose of constructive feedback is to help the person adjust behavior. If the person isn’t ready to hear the feedback, chances are, he or she won’t be ready to change. Asking also shows that you respect the person. “Can I share something with you? or; “Can I give you some feedback?” And what if the person says “no”? Well, maybe now really isn’t a good time to hear what you have to say. The person may be stressed or not feeling well and wouldn’t be receptive to what you have to say in any case. So, if the person says “no,” respect that. Say, “Okay, let’s talk later then.” Try again later, and if you still get a “no,” schedule a time to talk. Say, “I respect that now isn’t a good time. You tell me when we can meet.”
  2. Describe the specific behavior that you’ve observed or experienced, keeping all judgment out of it. Tell only what you saw or heard. “You’ve been late three times in the last two weeks.” One of the most challenging aspects of giving any kind of feedback is in describing the actual behavior without judging it. When you judge behavior you are putting your own label on it. Saying, “You seem really lazy” is a judgment call. Saying, “You’ve been late three times . . .” is a statement of fact.
  3. Impact: Say how the person’s behavior has affected you, the team, the organization, or even the person him/herself. “When you come in late, others have to cover for you in the call center and you miss the morning staff meetings.”
  4. Next Steps: Ask the person how he or she can fix the problem. Don’t offer a solution. If the person is stuck, offer to talk again later. Offer help only when warranted. “What can you do differently?” or (maybe); “What can you do about this and how can I help?”

Building Your Skills: Think about this. How did you learn how to print your name? To play the guitar? To dance? You practiced. You worked through drills and exercises. You got frustrated, you made mistakes. But you got better at it, right? You can get better at giving feedback too. Here’s how:

Do it early. Address the issue as soon as possible. Don’t wait until the person’s performance has slipped well below standard before speaking up. Providing immediate feedback:

  • Allows the person to quickly change course (delayed feedback may result in dealing with ingrained behaviors, which are much tougher to tackle).
  • Is more accurate, since you are both likely to remember the circumstance.
  • Reduces anxiety because you’re addressing the problem before it has gotten out of hand.

Do it often. Feedback should be a daily occurrence, a part of your normal routine. Your first conversations may not go so well, but don’t let that stop you. Keep at it until it becomes second nature to you. If you need to rehearse the conversation with someone you trust beforehand, do that.

Feedback really is the “breakfast of champions.” Don’t skip it.

Until next time . . .

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