That Difficult Conversation – How to have a Feedback Conversation

I often hear from client managers that feedback is difficult because employees don’t want to hear it. And I hear from team members that they don’t receive good feedback. Clearly there is an opportunity here for better management of those difficult conversations.

What makes them difficult in the first place? As a giver of feedback that may be uncomfortable, people are often worried at how the other will react. Will they get mad, breakdown and get all emotional? Will they act out?

For the receiver, they may be worried that they am under attack, that their job is at risk, or that the sender of feedback just doesn’t like the receiver.

For both parties in this state their brains are not optimized for collaboration, creativity and innovation. Both sides feel risk, which puts the brain and the body into the state of fight, flight or freeze. There is a better way. It just requires a bit of mindfulness around the communication.

The first step is to let the team member know that you are going to have a feedback conversation. And that it is about performance. What often makes this difficult is the manager only has the “feedback conversation” when there is a problem. A different way is to have regularly scheduled 1:1 conversations that cover performance, goals, obstacles and direction. When you have these regularly then it is not as shocking when you call to provide feedback.

Second, even though this conversation may be difficult you can still let the team member know they are important to your team and to you. When you team members know you care about them they are much more open to feedback.  So how do you let them know that you care? In my case Jeff told me, “John you’ve been doing a good job and customers like you. This was an expensive mistake, let’s discuss it.”

By telling me I was doing well and that customers like me he was telling me that I was still a valued member of the team. Now my brain was actually open to the feedback.

The next step is to identify the Situation that occurred, the Behavior you observed and the Impact that had on the business.  You can then ask them for their insights, perceptions of what happened. This gets them to begin thinking through the situation and a new behavior. If they create the right solution on their own your job is less difficult you can agree and support their new behavior.  My experience is that most people know what they need to do.

If they don’t you can create a new expectation and agreement. And if they require new skills or resources this is the perfect time to arrange that to go along with their commitment/agreement.

When you slow down, when you let them know you care and that they are more than a disposable asset and you set the tone of the conversation, you can gain alignment and agreement.

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