The Gift of FeedbackApr 16, 2021
By: Kumar Dattatreyan
I was recently in a conversation with a client who seemed a bit off and distracted. My client is a Product Owner for a multi-year project that's just starting to get going and she seemed troubled by something. She was thinking about something else entirely. So I asked her, "what is troubling you today? You seem distracted by something."
She looked at me (through the zoom or webex interface, can't remember which) and paused, and didn't say anything, as if evaluating whether to confide in me or just let it go. She made her decision and shared her frustration and anxiety about a member on her team and how she seemed to be going about things in a way that was out of alignment with her. This person was just doing her own thing, and while what she did was of high quality, it wasn't what the PO wanted her to be working on. And understandably, the PO was frustrated. So, I asked her, "what have you shared with her?" to which she again paused for a little while before answering, "nothing yet, and this has been going on for a while now."
This is not uncommon and I immediately related to her dilemma. We've all done it, or not done it, as it were...and by that I mean, not given feedback when appropriate, or not given it in a way that was well received, or we've just let it fester to the point that when we finally do give feedback, it comes across as frustration, or worse, as a reprimand.
Why do we do this to ourselves? Why is it so hard to give feedback? It shouldn't be, it needn't be and should be something we do every day, every hour, with everyone we work with or live with. Think about all the things you wish you'd said but didn't, and imagine if you had said what you wish you'd said, what would the outcome have been? Could you have changed something about your relationship with the person in some small way? I tend to think that feedback, or the lack of timely feedback is the cause of most dysfunction in the workplace, and in the home as well. Delay in providing feedback leads to even more delay until it can become too much to contemplate saying anything. Having that crucial conversation at the appropriate time is probably the hardest and most amazing skill you can learn.
Feedback is a gift when given in a way that recognizes and values the person we're giving it to. What follows is a simple 5 step method you can practice anywhere and at anytime with anyone. I suggest you try it with your spouse or significant other first, and once you practice a few times, you can give effective feedback to anyone, even your boss!
Step 1: Set the Stage
In this step, all you're really doing is setting the context and the boundary for the conversation. You may say something like, "Hi Dan, do you have a moment to chat about the demo you gave this morning?" You could put the recipient at ease first if you like, however, most people like to just cut to the chase and hear what you have to say without a whole lot of preamble. In fact, many folks feel that the feedback is insincere when there's a bit too much chit-chat. People know if you have something to say to them, so it's better to just say it!
Setting the stage provides the context and the frame, and then once you have their permission to continue, just tell them what you have to say.
Step 2; Describe the Behavior
Once you've set the stage, then it's time to describe what you want to talk to them about. It's important to describe the behavior and the impact as you perceived it. Doing so removes any judgement on your part as all you're doing is describing something from your perspective.
You might say something like this, "I noticed that you seemed to not be your usual prepared self this morning for the demo and I felt that quite a few people seemed like they still had questions about what was demonstrated."
While this statement alone may put the recipient on the defensive, the next step is key to having a conversation rather it being just a way for you to state your position.
Step 3: Ask for their perception
In this step, you turn it around and ask the recipient to share how they saw the situation. You're inviting them to broaden the space, even to own the space as they reflect on the feedback you just shared. You may say something like, "Dan, what do you think about the demo?" It could be any open-ended question that allows the recipient to share their perspective.
This step is crucial in the feedback conversation as it allow for a co-creation of the solution. As you converse with the recipient, it's important to listen to their perspective since your perception of the situation may not match theirs. Be open to it, be aware that feedback is a gift and while you may feel "right" about something, the recipient may have a completely different perspective.
Step 4: Make a Suggestion
Continue to ask open-ended questions to help the recipient further broaden the frame and come to a conclusion with your help. What you're doing here is building trust and relationship with the person without judgement. If the situation warrants it, you may make a suggestion especially when the recipient seems stuck.
Remember, this is only a suggestion, which means the recipient doesn't have to accept it. If you're their boss, it may seem weird to only make a suggestion...why not just tell them what to do, you ask. You could do that, however, you just lost an opportunity to build relationship and trust.
Step 5: Craft an Agreement
Before you end your conversation, it's critical you build an agreement on what the recipient is going to do differently based on your feedback. It may be nothing, however, if you follow these steps, and you do so with grace and empathy, chances are the recipient will gladly co-create the steps to improve whatever aspect of performance you bring to her.
So, there you have it, 5 simple steps to building better conversations all the time! These conversations don't even have to take a long time...if you do them often enough and with practice, these are, at most, 5 minute conversations. What makes feedback difficult is that we wait too long to give it.
So, don't wait! Be authentic! Be caring and give people the gift of your feedback!