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Do you really want feedback?

Most people say they want feedback.  But do they really want it?

If you’re a boss, or a spouse/partner, the challenge for you is how do you give feedback, when you suspect the person doesn’t really want it?

I’ve often been in the position as a boss with having to give needed feedback to a co-worker, knowing full well that it may not be received with open arms.  And now, as an executive coach, it’s my responsibility to give feedback to my clients – who are actually paying me to give them honest feedback. It’s not any easier when you are critiquing someone.

Here is the process I use to prepare myself for giving feedback:

  1. I make a list of the feedback I want to give someone.  The list can be short or long. If it’s long, I chunk it into manageable, digestible parts, knowing that I will get the best reaction if I don’t try to force all my feedback into one session.  I may give feedback in multiple meetings with someone, so they have the space to take action and ask questions.
  1. I make sure I have at least two or three examples to back up each piece of feedback, as I expect my employee/client will ask for examples. For example, if my feedback is around being on time for meetings, or being prepared, I give specific examples of them arriving late, or not having information or a report prepared for a meeting.  Don’t tell yourself that these examples are trite, or nit-picky.  They are specific examples of a recurring behavior that does not reflect well on the person.
  1. When I am giving feedback, I work to make it a dialogue, not a monologue. I might ask questions such as, “Has anyone ever mentioned this to you before?” or “Are you aware that you…..?”  Engaging the person in the conversation allows them to admit they are aware and helps them craft a solution in collaboration with your feedback.
  1. If the person becomes argumentative or defensive, I let them vent and don’t interrupt them (it’s hard to NOT interrupt them). When they are done venting,  I say “I totally understand that my comments naturally make you feel defensive.  That’s not my intention.  I wanted to give you this feedback to make you aware of how you are coming across (perceived) so we could talk about ways to improve this perception”.  By acknowledging their feelings in this way, and then pausing for them to comment, it usually creates a safe space for them to admit that they know this is a problem.
  1. Then together, we have a conversation about what they can do to change.  Sometimes they may not immediately respond positively, and it’s okay to suggest they think about it, and set up another meeting time to talk about their ideas for change. But don’t wait too long to meet again. I find it best to schedule the next meeting right then and put it on both of your calendars, so it continues to be top of mind.

If someone is belligerent in their reaction to your feedback and vehemently disagrees with you, then you likely will be having a different conversation.  A conversation about parting ways.  I hope that’s not the intention when giving feedback, but I have experienced many times when I am just delaying the inevitable. We know you need to part ways with someone, that’s what your gut tells you. But, most of us do not like being the first mover to part ways with someone.  So, you figure you can get them to change, by giving feedback.  Good luck.

As you’re reading this, you are probably thinking about a few work examples and the need to give feedback.  Or, are you thinking about relationships in your personal life?  The same process can apply to both your personal and work life.

If you are frustrated in a personal relationship, and need to have a fierce conversation, it always helps to write down your concerns, listing examples of the issues and practicing ahead of time to give you self-confidence.  Practice in front of a mirror, or in the car while you are driving alone.  Practice what your partner (or employee) might say in reaction and what your response will be.  If you practice the scenario several times, when you finally meet with someone, you will feel less nervous.

Recently I have given direct feedback to multiple clients and prospective clients.  Because I was well prepared and kind, every single one of them thanked me for being honest with them.  There are not many people in our lives who are willing to give needed feedback and risk the backlash from it.

Be bold, confident and fearless. You will be amazed at how great you will feel afterwards.

Onward and upward,

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