6 Steps to Offering Tough Feedback, and Why It’s a Crucial Skill for Every Leader

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It’s a beautiful, sunny Saturday afternoon, and I’m listening to my coaching client talk about a repeated altercation she experienced with her colleague. Let’s call this individual Dan. It was another week of Dan criticizing her projects and team members during the staff meeting. She doesn’t think Dan is doing this on purpose, not necessarily, but he continues to behave this way, making passive-aggressive comments and laughing at her suggestions week in and week out. Whenever she strikes up a conversation with him to discuss his behavior, he reacts in shock at the implication that his behavior is nothing short of superb, essentially gaslighting her.

During our meeting I can read the anger and frustration on her face. Her arms are flying in aggressive, frantic movements. She feels bullied by her situation as if there is no other option but to stop. But she doesn’t really want that. She is a fulfilled, respected executive at a consumer electronics brand. She grew up in the industry, starting as a program manager and rising through the helm of product management and retail to running all of her organization’s operations. she loves her job She is intelligent, lively and humble. She knows her inside and out. And yet she is quickly influenced by interrogations and criticism from her colleagues. There is a long silence when I challenge her on how better to share critical feedback with Dan. I can read the inner monologue on her face: He’ll never change… He’ll set me on fire… What if I get emotional in conversation? Or worse, what if his interrogations get worse?

She is not alone in this experience. I see this reaction in almost every other coaching client. Although the fear of a difficult conversation can be daunting, your feedback can have a significant positive impact on the recipient’s outcomes, performance, and relationships.

Here’s a practical guide to the art of providing feedback and building that critical leadership muscle. These six steps can help you provide feedback to even the most reluctant members of your team:

1. Check yourself first, get clear about your why

Start by asking yourself what thoughts and emotions are coming up in you to share that feedback with that person. What fears and limiting beliefs might arise and why? You want to be aware of your personal biases, so writing down your thoughts is a great way to find out what’s going on in your head. Remember, no one can make you feel pain through words unless you identify with them, and the reason for identification may stem from unhealed internal wounds that you may need to face head-on.

2. Be direct, specific, and caring

Showing yourself with compassion and genuine caring will make all the difference so your feedback is heard. You can give caring and compassionate feedback and still take responsibility without relaxing the situation through harmony.

Leaders who value harmony are particularly those who struggle with it. Typical behaviors for a loosening attempt could show up as

Practice sitting uncomfortably. The rewards will be growing trust and respect in return, as well as healthy boundaries in personal relationships.

See Also: How to Give Employee Feedback Effectively (And Why It Matters)

3. Listen actively, be present

Purposely ask open-ended questions to unpack the feedback. Possible questions can be what was your intention during today’s team meeting [fill in the blank]or how do you think your response affected the purpose of the meeting?

4. Lead effectively

Share specific examples of the impact and consequences the recipient’s behavior and actions had on you, your team, and/or the project.

5. Offer your support

Think about how you can help the person improve. Also, be open to the fact that you too are willing to change or adapt to help the person get where they need to be. Offering your support shows commitment to future progress and also expresses that you take responsibility for your contribution to the situation.

See also: 5 steps to productive feedback

6. Request agreement

It’s important to end the conversation on a mutual agreement to create a level of accountability. A possible agreement could be:

  • A commitment to return to the conversation after further reflection

  • An agreement on specific actions, behaviors and steps to work to improve the situation

Your feedback has the potential to change someone’s life

Imagine that you might be the first person in your colleague’s career who dares to speak up, reflect on their behavior and provide crucial feedback. You can help him expand his awareness and clear the root cause of frustrating reactions he may have endured throughout his life.

Your feedback can help improve and build your colleague’s leadership and interpersonal skills. Shying away from sharing important feedback can be a selfish act that holds back the recipient’s potential for growth.

The ability to provide feedback is an essential leadership skill and a crucial part of communication. Leaders who are able to provide feedback in a specific, caring, and confident manner build more vulnerable relationships and are held in high esteem over time.

Be proactive. be direct Be a leader and set an example of communication and progress you want to see in your organization.

See also: Employee feedback is only effective when done right. Here’s how…

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