Productive Feedback?

How comfortable are you giving "critical" / "productive" feedback to others? Often we avoid it all together because we're afraid of the other person's reaction. In the workshops we've given on this topic, the nearly universal response we hear is that people feel like they don't get meaningful feedback with any regularity at all. If we don't GIVE feedback, we set people up to continuously disappoint us and miss the opportunity to help others develop. It's a critical leadership skill. So, how can you give feedback that's helpful while keeping your relationships going strong? Here's what we recommend:

1. Take time to reflect and prepare. Check in with yourself...what is your intention? If you are blaming or judging, how can you reframe and connect with your values before proceeding? Stay focused on the objective of helping the other person and improving your relationship and communication. Consciously check your feedback beforehand to catch any “unconscious” biases you might have about the person or the situation. Look at your feedback through the three lenses:

  • The reverse lens: what would the other person say happened? (put yourself in his/her shoes)
  • The wide lens: what are all the other possible perspectives?
  • The long lens: how will I feel about this in a year, and what would it take to let it go?

2. During the conversation, look for ways to make it less stressful.

  • Try to find a private, neutral location for your conversation.
  • Share your intention before sharing specific feedback. Ask permission to talk about an issue of concern. For example, I’d really like to think about how we can work on projects more efficiently. Would you be open to talking things through?
  • Express confidence in his/her ability to address the issue and resolve. I know we’re going to work through this, and I’m glad we’re talking about it.
  • Be inclusive, supportive, build relationships and be willing to be vulnerable yourself by sharing your struggles, if appropriate.
  • Ask questions to fully understand the person’s perspective. Make the assumption that you may not have all the facts or fully comprehend the other person’s view. How do you think things are going? What’s your perspective?
  • Ask permission to share your perspective. I’d like to help. Could I share what I’m seeing? Would it be helpful if I offered some perspective? When you do ___, the impact is ___. Going forward, it would be helpful if you would ___.
  • Engage the other person in finding solutions. What do you think would help, going forward? What’s going well and what one thing would you do differently next time?
  • Ask questions to support commitment-to-change and gain their emotional buy-in. Such as: How can I support you in making this adjustment? How will you feel when you make this change? How will this change help make others feel? How will this improve your relationships?

3. Model openness by seeking feedback yourself. What could I do differently to help in this situation? Ask, listen and thank them for their insights, letting go of defensiveness.
4. Remember to make emotional bank deposits regularly. We need a reservoir of positive messages to negative ones: 3 to 1 at a minimum. Train your brain to look for wins, not just losses.

« Back to Blog