Giving constructive feedback to someone may rank close to giving a presentation and death in terms of people’s fears! There are many reasons given for this: being paralyzed by the projected reaction or push back, not knowing how to address the issue, hoping the issue will just go away, not wanting or unable to  apply consequences, too busy to take the time to do it, etc. Which ones have you been mentally checking off this list? Many of these fears may be based on bad experiences you have had when receiving ineffective feedback as demonstrated in this first video animation. Here, the manager is giving feedback to a team member about an assignment that is not going well. As you watch the video, note your reactions to the approach taken to giving the feedback, the situation and location, the language used, the conversational tone, and the resulting action plan.

So how would feel as the receiver of this feedback? Would this feedback have motivated you to change or would it just push you to the Fight or Flight reaction? How confident (on a scale of 1 to 5) are you that the team member’s performance on this assignment will improve based on the feedback given by the manager? If your level is less than 5 then a different approach is indicated. So let’s look at the same situation in a second video animation using a more effective 8 step feedback approach

The 8 Step Effective Feedback Approach

Step 1 – Set Up the Discussion. Approach the person to set up a time and place to meet. Don’t make the mistake seen in the first video of delivering the feedback in a public area. Identify a non-threatening private area where no other people can overhear the discussion. Explain the purpose of the discussion. In this case,  it might be: “I am concerned about the deadline missed yesterday and want to discuss this with you” or “I am concerned about meeting the schedule and want to discuss this with you.”

Step 2 – Greet the Person. Thank  them for meeting with you. Start by asking a question such as “How do you think things are going on the project?” as Kate did in the second video.

Step 3 – State the Specific Issue of Concern. Don’t wait too long to get to the point. The biggest mistake we see in these situations is beating around the bush. Be direct and make it simple. Be factual such as “This is the third deadline you have missed.” Base it on what you have personally seen because relying on what others have told you will almost assuredly result in a “Who told you that?” response. Don’t attach blame, stay calm. If you have talked about this before, remind the person of past discussions. Do not make judgmental  statements such as the “If you become a project manager, heaven help us” comment in the first video.

Step 4 – Ask for the Person’s Input. Ask open ended questions, not questions that can be answered “Yes” or “No”. Ask questions that will encourage the person to identify issues and their consequences. Did you notice in the second video how Kate persistently asked Mary for her input? In the first video, Kate asked no questions but made only statements and demands.

Step 5 – Ask the Person for a Plan. Be clear about the goal. In the second video, Kate was clear that the expectation was that deadlines will be met. Don’t make vague statements as made in the first video when Kate told Mary “You’ve got to do better than this.” At one point in the second video, Mary attempted to get Kate to come  up with a plan but Kate prudently responded by asking Mary what she  could do. Mary will have no buy-in if Kate dictates the plan, it must be Mary’s plan that Kate approves. Avoid the tendency to jump into the conversation too soon because you are uncomfortable with silence. Force yourself to wait. If the person needs time to plan, allow a day at most and set up a time for the  next meeting.

Step 6 – Summarize the Discussion. Summarize the agreed upon actions and schedule and the commitments made by each party to avoid leaving the discussion with different expectations.  If it is a continuing issue, emphasize the importance and consequences of not resolving the issue.

Step 7 – Agree on the Follow-Up. Agree on the timing of specific steps to monitor progress on the commitments. In the second video, Kate and Mary agreed to meet for their first follow-up meeting after the next project meeting.

Step 8 – Recognize Achievements with Positive Feedback. When positive changes occur, recognize and reinforce them. Even though it seems that giving positive feedback would be easier to give, we have yet to hear someone say “I am sick and tired of all the positive feedback I get around here!” We often don’t take the time to do a proper job of recognizing and appreciating someone for their accomplishments. Passing someone in the hall and saying “Good job” doesn’t cut it. Waiting for an annual performance review doesn’t cut it. The keys to effective positive feedback are: (1) be specific (2) be timely and (3) be sincere. In this situation, it might be “I see that you have met all deadlines in the past month. I appreciate your efforts and so do the other team members. Your efforts have enabled everyone else to meet their deadlines as well in the last month.”

So now how would you feel if you received feedback using the 8 step approach? Okay, it probably still wouldn’t be comfortable because we’d all prefer unmitigated praise. But constructive feedback is an important part of ongoing learning and growth for the giver and receiver of the feedback!

Join the conversation on challenging feedback situations.