If climbing a mountain is more desirable than providing a person with difficult feedback, you are not alone. Feedback is one of the most valuable culture and behavior-supporting actions leaders, and co-workers can provide to one another. However, providing meaningful and accurate feedback is not always easy, especially in instances when we must provide difficult or corrective feedback.
The media has historically portrayed (even celebrated) feedback as cold, abrupt, and nasty from tough-talking bosses. However, feedback can be a warm, compassionate experience that strengthens teams and builds trust. So why do we fear it so much?
Feedback is tricky. On the one hand, many people enjoy hearing words of appreciation or even praise, but on the other hand, we seem to believe that critical feedback is a bad thing. Many of us waiver on providing clear, accurate, and timely feedback because our ego gets in the way, and I can appreciate that – it’s tough. We want to be liked, but more importantly, I think we don’t want to hurt the other person. What might make providing feedback easier for you? Would it be helpful to know that the person wants to know it, whether good or bad?
When I do workshops on feedback or difficult conversations, I explore our assumptions, beliefs, and values. It is interesting to hear how people respond to “What makes providing feedback difficult?” People frequently cite fear, lack of confidence, wanting to damage the relationship, etc. However, when I ask, “Do you value or appreciate receiving feedback” they often respond with “Yes,” and “Of course.” Then I press the question further, “Even critical feedback,” and after a brief pause, the group usually responds with, “Yeah, I want to know when I am not doing something correctly or well.” This makes sense, doesn’t it? Don’t you take pride in your work, and you want to make improvements where/when possible? The good news is that most of us want to know when we need to make changes or improvements (when delivered respectfully) and that providing feedback is a skill that will continue to develop (become easier) over time.
The following are a few things to keep in mind as you work towards providing more meaningful and frequent feedback:
- First off, feedback must be timely (close to the event/action that needs addressing) and specific (directly to the person in a private, respectful setting – we must do away with the large group general corrective feedback when the message needs to be directed to one or a select group of people).
- People frequently state they want to know when they aren’t doing their work correctly. They want to do a good job, and feedback helps them improve.
- The level of cultural health and the quality of the relationship between the provider and recipient will buy grace for even the most difficult conversations.
- Write down the feedback you want to provide and bring that note to the meeting. It is ok to be nervous and even make mistakes while providing feedback. Most people will respect the fact that this may be difficult for you. And the good news is the more often you have difficult conversations, the easier it is.
- People may get very defensive and even angry. However, I’ve found that even in the angriest situations, those committed to the organization’s and their team’s success will reflect upon the feedback, eventually embracing it and even thanking you for “calling them out.”
- Lastly, there is no better time than today to start providing feedback.