March 23, 2023 5 Min Read
Effective Feedback Conversations
Feedback is a conversation that at times you initiate, and at times you receive. Think back to the best feedback you ever received. What did the person say to you, and why was that meaningful?
How do you feel when you think about the last feedback conversation you initiated? If the answer is “I wish it had gone better,” I understand. It’s hard to give feedback. It takes courage. And it takes care and practice to give feedback in a way that actually feels productive. We hesitate to give feedback because the person might get mad, the situation might get worse, or we don’t feel like we know what to say.
What can we learn from receiving feedback that can be applied to giving feedback? Chances are the feedback you valued was in the moment, was specific, occurred regularly, and was balanced toward more positive feedback than negative. Use this approach as you give feedback and watch for better outcomes.
Start With Positive Feedback
If you start to give feedback about what’s going well at the time, you encourage more of that behavior. You get better at giving reinforcing feedback and you put emotional chips in the bank with the person that you can draw on when you need to have a more difficult conversation. You’ll start from a place in the relationship where they feel appreciated. It’s much easier to get a good outcome when you start with established goodwill than if you start with a deficit in your emotional account.
Make it a goal to give positive feedback every day. And be specific. What behavior did you notice? What difference did that make to you or the team? What behavior would you like to see in the future?
Of course, not all the feedback you want to give is positive. Even when you want to ask for a change to someone’s behavior, more frequent feedback is better. It’s far easier to address a problem when it’s starting. Letting it grow is worse for both of you. Smaller chunks of feedback are easier to process. And if you invest in these small conversations regularly, you’ll avoid bigger, harder conversations down the road.
You can say almost anything to someone if your heart is in the right place—and the other person knows it. There’s a huge difference between saying, “Can I give you some feedback about how I wish you would make my life easier?” And saying, “Can I give you some feedback that will help you achieve your goals faster?” And yet the feedback might be the same. So start with the mindset that you’re going to genuinely help that person you’re talking with.
Enter The Conversation With Curiosity
It’s also important to approach the conversation with curiosity. What might you not know about the situation? What circumstances might change the way you feel now about the behavior or situation? What solutions might be available beyond the ones you’re considering? Feedback conversations should be conversations with information flowing both ways.
As hard as it sometimes is to see, in every situation, we’re also playing a part. What’s your role in the mess? How are you contributing to the problem you’re seeing? And in every situation, the systems and environment are playing a part. So think about how the dynamics of the business, market, team, or resources available could be affecting the person and his or her behavior.
Listen And Explore
Now, with your curiosity firmly in place, prepare to listen.
All of this can be hard to do if you’re in a hurry, in the middle of something else, or upset for whatever reason. So choose a time when you feel calm, find a private and quiet space, and set aside a reasonable amount of time for the conversation. Having a conversation that centers on exploration rather than judgment shows respect and demonstrates to the other person that you really do care, that you really do understand, and that you have all the information. And most of the time, you will learn something, even if it doesn’t change the outcomes.
By listening fully, you earn the opportunity to talk. And then you can share your genuine feedback with support and kindness.
Let’s say you’ve done all that. And now we’re to the point where you’re going to say something (probably negative) about your colleague’s / coworker’s / teammate’s work behavior.
A Conversation Framework For Feedback
It’s key that when you give the feedback, you make it clear that you’re focused on the person’s behavior, not on the person. Studies show that psychological safety is one of the top indicators of high performing teams. It has to be OK to give and get feedback and to make mistakes. If it’s not, teams spend an inordinate amount of time and energy protecting themselves from judgment and trying to make sure they never do anything wrong, ever. It can also help to share the path that’s getting you to your conclusion. So start by sharing what you actually saw or heard. And then share your interpretation.
Here’s a valuable 3-part process for delivering either positive or negative feedback:
- Describe the behavior you observed objectively.
- Describe the impact on the business / team.
- Describe the behavior you’d like to see in the future.
One reality of feedback is that people typically hear the very worst interpretation of what you’ve actually said. So it can also help to be explicit about what you don’t mean.
Move Early And Contract For Action
Of course, it’s different to address a one-time issue and a repeated issue. Addressing the problem when you see it the first time is key, and asking for a very specific change helps set you up for success if you need to revisit the conversation. If you’re not sure going into the conversation what the right next step would be, one option is to ask. “What do you suggest as a next step to make sure we don’t find ourselves back in this situation?” Even if that first suggestion isn’t the right one, it could give you something to respond to and help clarify your thinking about what might work.
Pause And Reflect
It’s easy to just roll on with your day and your week. But I recommend that you hit pause and take a minute to think about the feedback conversation you had. What went well about giving feedback? What would you want to do differently next time? It might even be worth jotting down a quick note about when you had the conversation and what you agreed to, specifically. A few notes can help you see if you weren’t as specific as you should have been—or let you address the issue with confidence if there was clear agreement.
In summary, the key to up your game at giving feedback: Give more feedback, more often. Holding onto feedback for too long makes it harder to deliver the feedback that would make our relationships stronger. Feedback is better done as a maintenance activity than as a one-time project.
If elements of the feedback framework are challenging for you, a coach can help you practice and provide support to build your confidence. To get the most out of a 1:1 coaching session, write down a goal for yourself and reflect on what you’d like to improve.
A TaskHuman coach can help you focus on the specific next step to help you. Coaches like Coach Marnette Falley and other leadership coaches are on the platform ready to help support you give effective feedback.