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Does Giving Feedback Scare You? You’re Not Alone.

February 7, 2012

Giving feedback is a scary proposition for most people.  Fears about giving feedback range from, “She won’t take it the way I mean it,” to “He doesn’t really want my opinion,” to “He’s not going to change anyway,” to “She has never listened to me before so why should I think she’ll listen to me now,” to “It will only make matters worse,” to “I can’t.  He’ll never speak to me again.”

After last week’s blog post, “Want to Grow and Flourish? Seek Out the Gift of Feedback,” I received this comment.  “We can all use some pointers on how to GIVE feedback without feeling like a villain.  When I’m asked for feedback, it puts me on edge, like I’m on the spot.  Even when the request is made with genuine openness, I feel afraid of being perceived as overly critical and being rejected.  I can’t imagine I’m alone.”

Trust me, you’re not alone.

We resist giving feedback, be it to one particular person or as a general rule.  Certainly, there are good reasons for being wary and reticent.  Whatever your rationale has been for politely keeping your lips sealed, I encourage you to more courageously, skillfully and compassionately step up and speak up.  You have a valuable gift to share.

Giving constructive feedback is important to do when a direct request is made of you.  If you’re a manager, coach or team leader, you’re paid to develop people.  To accomplish that end, constructive feedback is one of the most powerful tools you have at your disposal.  Not giving feedback is a sure sign of neglect of this critical dimension of your role.

If you’re a mentor, colleague, parent, partner or a good friend, the people you love and nurture will benefit from what you see in their behavior.  Why?  It’s simple:  what’s in your awareness and line of sight about a direct report, colleague or loved one may be in her blind spot. Feedback is the tool that diminishes the size of a person’s blind spot.

Constructive feedback, whether solicited or unsolicited, when delivered with honesty and respect, in the right setting, can super-charge high performers, boost sagging confidence, spark a flame of inspiration in the bored and unmotivated, and redirect focus for someone who has lost her way.

5 Tips for Giving Feedback – Appreciative and Developmental

  1. Check your intentions.  If you intend to be critical, bring the person down to size, or unload your anger, disappointment or resentment, don’t say a word.  You’re not in a frame of mind that’s conducive to constructive feedback.  Excuse yourself until you can clear out your baggage.  Constructive feedback comes from good intentions – the honest desire to be helpful.
  1. Stay away from terms like “your attitude,” or “you’re not motivated,” or “you’re so hostile.”  Instead, ask yourself, “What have I seen this person do [actions or nonverbal behavior], or heard him say, that causes me to conclude he has a positive or negative attitude?”  Whatever the answer is to that question, what you’ve seen him do or heard him say, share that.

For example, you might think and be tempted to say, “Your attitude towards Susan is disrespectful.”  That approach will most likely draw an extra measure of defensiveness because the person will probably feel judged and accused.  So, don’t share your conclusion about their action.  Instead, describe the behaviors you’ve seen exhibited.

Focusing on behavior, a more effective statement sounds like, “Generally, I’ve noticed that when Susan speaks, you tend to roll your eyes, look down at the table, and interrupt her before she finishes speaking.” Then, stop talking.  Let the person reach her own conclusion about the message her actions convey.  Remember, your job is to be her mirror, not her judge.

  1. Use words, vocal tone and body language that demonstrate respect and non-judgmentalness.
  1. Find the right time and place to share your perspective.  The rule of thumb I trust is it’s acceptable to praise publicly (appreciative feedback) and always redirect or critique (developmental feedback) privately.
  1. Keep in mind:  the recipient of feedback always has the right to do with the information whatever they choose.  They may action it or ignore it.  Your role is to skillfully provide highly quality information.

Every day, you have the power to give a gift that can boost self-esteem, embolden the under-appreciated, change the course of a career or, at just the right moment, guide an important, life-defining choice or Pivot Point.  Step up and speak out; courageously, give feedback.  The guidelines above will help you to do so constructively.  You provide a valuable service as you help others see themselves as you see them.

Stay tuned!  Next week, I’ll post some suggested words and phrases designed to help you to give feedback with enhanced competence and confidence, no matter how difficult or sensitive the issue is which needs to be addressed.

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