Giving feedback difficult? Not if you do it like this

Use the Feedback Rules

We all have things that bother us. Colleagues or managers that annoy us with the way they act or how they treat us. Situations that frustrate us because they never seem to change. We don’t feel acknowledged or understood. All things that lead to negative energy and unproductivity because they simply are not effective or don’t feel good.  

Nobody really looks forward to give negative feedback, unless..  it’s on social media and you can really ventilate without feeling personal consequences 😉.

We tent to postpone or even avoid these situations, so that we don’t have to confront people about it. It’s not fun to hurt somebody’s feelings, offend of demotivate people, get into yes-no discussions or maybe even a conflict. It doesn’t matter if you are a manager or a team member struggling with co-workers or your own manager. I see people in all kinds of roles and levels avoiding these conversations.

We just deal with it and continue like nothing happened. Until it happens again and again. It keeps piling up it, puts pressure on our shoulders and starts to annoy us even more. We start working around people or situations. Maybe start talking behind their back so that eventually they notice something is off (without knowing what, cuz nobody tells them..) and they also start feeling frustrated.  A downwards spiral that is not beneficial to anybody.

Why give feedback

If you feel hurt or irritated about something, you shouldn’t keep it to yourself. It will keep piling up and your feelings will only become stronger. So will the hurdle to say something  about it, especially without too much emotion in it. Because if you don’t do anything about it, your emotions and stress level will only increase and you might at a certain point ‘explode’. Risking a harmed relationship and probably not so professional behaviour from your side.

You basically owe it to yourself to do something about it.

And, especially if you work together on a frequent base, you also owe it to the other person. Because if you don’t, you don’t give the other a fair chance to do something about it. Chances are that this person is not even aware of your feelings or also feels uncomfortable about the situation. The fact that you start a conversation about it, will help to take the tension off and create a constructive situation.

If you think about it: what if somebody that works closely with you felt hurt by something you said? You don’t have a clue about it, because you maybe said it with a different intension or wouldn’t attach value to it yourself. But you do feel that something is off. Wouldn’t you want to know what went wrong? You can than at least explain your intensions or prevent it from happening again in the future.

Most likely after you gave feedback, you will feel relieved. You will notice that the atmosphere is changing and that the connection between the two of you is improving. You now better understand each other’s point of view. People value openness and sincerity, as long as it’s done in a respectful and non-offensive way.

And, once you gave somebody feedback and agreed how you want to cooperate or what you expect from the other, its easier to hold them to it afterwards if they might do it again.

The key question is thus not ‘Should I feedback?’ but ‘How can I give feedback without offending the other or getting into an argument?’.

How to give feedback

Key principles on how to give feedback in a professional and constructive manner

  • Create a save environment.

Make sure you are in a private setting and don’t give feedback in group. Preferable have time blocked (e.g. schedule a coffee meeting) so neither you nor the receiver is in a rush. And do it in person, so not via email.

  • Always speak from yourself.

That means you need to start your sentences with ‘I’ and not ‘you’. If you say what the other is doing wrong, that is going to put the other in an defensive mode.

  • Don’t blame or judge but simply share your observations and feelings.

Share your observations so that is clear (don’t make it smaller than it is f.e.) but don’t blaim Feelings can’t be wrong or countered. They are your feelings so nobody can say it is not correct.

What is the best way to give feedback?

Use the Feedback Rules: I See, Feel, Think, Want

Feedback Rules

1. Always start describing your observations

  • I see..
  • I hear..
  • I notice..

2. Share what this does to you, your reaction or feelings

  • I feel..

3. Describe the effect/result of that and how you interpret it

  • I think..
  • This gives me the impression that ..
  • Than ..
  • That makes that I..

4. Pauze to get a response

5. Describe the desired situation, behaviour or make a few suggestions.

  • I would like that..
  • I want you to..
  • You make it easier for me if..
  • Perhaps you could..

Example of how to give feedback

I’ll give you an example so that you can see and feel the difference.

Imagine that we are in a weekly meeting with our project team. You enter a few minutes too late and this is what I tell you:

“Morning, Overslept again or something? I wanted to talk to you about that. You’re álways late in our meetings while the rest of us is always on time. It’s just frustrating that we always have to wait on you and end up with no time to discuss important matters. You just don’t take us seriously and hold us back. You should act more professional”.

Bad example

Nothing more left to do than to either dig hole and go sit in it to hide .. or to go into attack to defend yourself..

In any case, it is public shaming and will not lead to a more intrinsic motivation for you to join earlier. Maybe you even quit the project and tell them to do it themselves?

Another way to approach this would be that I schedule a coffee date with you to catch up.

I’ve booked a room (or virtually set up a meeting). We start with some chit-chat where I ask you how you’re doing. I might even hear that you have some issues at home with the kids that are in quarantine and keep delaying you on your work that you try to combine as good as possible?
Regardless of that.. At a certain moment, linked to something you mention or not, I tell you that there is something I wanted to talk to you about.

“I noticed that the past weeks, you enter our project team meetings too late. It makes me feel somewhat irritated and stressed because it gives me the impression that you don’t take our project seriously and we end up with time pressure on important topics.” Pauze & get your response. “Can we agree that you just let me know if you can’t make it or if you will be later? Than we can start with the meeting even if you are late and everybody knows whats going on.”

Example of how to give feedback

If you have a feedback conversation that you are dreading, it helps to take some time to prepare. Write down what your key message and storyline is according to the Feedback Rules above and practice with somebody!

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