How do you get started when you need to give feedback to one of your colleagues? Here are some suggestions.
I am no longer surprised when managers and friends tell me all the reasons for avoiding giving feedback to one of their staff or colleagues. One person I know gets fearful and genuinely feels sick when an issue needs to be discussed that may cause a reaction. “It’s embarrassing. They’ll get angry. They won’t listen anyway.”
The problem is that if it is a significant issue and you don’t deal with it well, the problem will likely worsen, your relationship with that person may suffer and you will probably start talking to others about it. Every leader needs to give good quality feedback – positive feedback (there is NEVER ENOUGH GIVEN!) and constructive feedback, that helps people improve their performance.
Everyone needs feedback – that’s how we grow and develop our skills. The problem is we are not trained well to give and receive feedback, and usually have lousy role models in our work life.
So let’s focus on how to get started when you have to give constructive feedback or coach someone to improve.
An essential part of coaching someone is giving them feedback about their performance – telling them what they are doing well, and also what they could do better. But knowing what to say and how to say it can create a lot of anxiety.
So how can we overcome this fear? There are four ways to get started:
General enquiry. The easiest way to start is to ask a general question about work and how things are going. You break the ice with minimum anxiety on either side. The problem is that the discussion may not go in the direction you want.
Seek feedback first. If you want more control over the situation, seek feedback from the other person first and listen to what they have to say. That allows the person giving feedback to have their say later. The person will usually be more prepared to listen to your feedback because you have listened to them first.
Give positive feedback first. Another way to start is to give the person some positive feedback first and then tell them about the areas you are not so happy about. This is good because it reminds you to always find the positives with a person’s work. It enables you to build some rapport while giving the positive feedback, so you can follow up with the issues and concerns. There is a danger, however, that if you use this technique too often it may appear manipulative and people can become suspicious if you give the good news first because they will be expecting the bad news to follow.
Direct approach. The most direct way of giving someone feedback is to just be brave and do it, without beating around the bush. You need to keep your voice constructive and respectful, be specific and concrete, and give examples. Avoid such generalisations as “poor attitude”, “always careless” and “not a team player”.
It doesn’t matter which of these techniques you use to get started. What is important is that you do something to deal with the issue. Don’t delay.
Eve Ash is a psychologist and managing director of Seven Dimensions, and is co-producer, with Peter Quarry, of Ash.Quarry Productions best seller Can We Talk? (From the Coaching Challenges series) www.7dimensions.com.au