How comfortable are you giving “critical” or constructive feedback to others? If we are being honest with ourselves, often, we avoid it altogether because we’re afraid of the other person’s reaction. We don’t want to hurt people.  This is a noble intention; however, the nearly universal response we hear from our clients is that they don’t get regular, meaningful feedback at all. Gallup’s research confirms this.  Consider this:  If we don’t give others feedback, we set them up to continuously disappoint us.  We also miss the opportunity to help others develop. Mastering feedback is a vital leadership skill. So, how can you give feedback that’s helpful while keeping your relationships positive and productive? Here’s what we recommend:

1. Take time to reflect with self-compassion. Check in with yourself. What’s the challenge you’re having with this person, and what is it that you need?  Starting with compassion for yourself can open up more compassion for your counterpart.  Try the following:

  • Label your emotions (a.k.a. “name it to tame it”) to honor the difficulty you’re experiencing so you can gain perspective and disentangle yourself from them.  
  • Become aware of your emotions in your body (a.k.a. “feel it to heal it).  Thoughts can move quickly but the body moves a little more slowly.  If you can find your emotions in your body and change the way you relate to them, your emotions themselves may begin to change.
  • Soften your physical response in the body intentionally, soothe yourself with comforting words like you would extend to a dear friend, and allow there to be space for your own experience.  The goal is to be in a compassionate relationship to your own difficult emotions.   

2.  Consider your approach in advance.  What is your intention in having this conversation, really? 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 audit 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 week, six months, or a year? Is it still worth pursuing, or should I let it go?  

3. Before, during and after the conversation, look for ways to demonstrate that you care.  

  • Remember to make emotional bank deposits regularly. We need a reservoir of positive messages to counterbalance the emotional charge of negative ones: 3 to 1 at a minimum, and ideally 5 or 6 to 1.   Train your brain to look for wins, not just losses. Make a habit of giving specific, positive feedback on a regular basis. 
  • 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?
  • 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? 
  • Be specific in describing the situation, behavior, and impact. In the meeting yesterday, when you ___, the impact was ___. I’m sure that wasn’t your intention.  
  • Use feedforward language to make suggestions. Is it okay if I make a suggestion? Going forward, it would be helpful if you would ___.
  • Support commitment-to-change and gain emotional buy-in. How can I support you in making this adjustment? 
  • Express confidence in his/her ability to address the issue and resolve. I’m so glad we had the opportunity to talk this through. I have confidence that our work together will be even better because of our ability to hash through this.

4. Make it safe for a two-way dialogue. Use a coaching approach!

  • Be inclusive, supportive, build relationships and be willing to be vulnerable yourself by sharing your struggles, if appropriate.
  • Ask questions to fully understand the other 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?
  • 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?
  • 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.