In a recent client team meeting, we talked about the “gift” of giving someone real performance information (aka feedback).

I was doing my “schtick” in front of the room, up on my soapbox when someone said, “But, what do you do when there’s a high probability of an emotional backlash?”

I launched into a personal experience with a scary guy who gave me some very pointed feedback about 20 years ago. I told the group, “I remember and appreciate that feedback to this day!” To which the person said, “Reeealy? You really loved it?” OK, point taken. I didn’t really love the experience, I might have even cried on a friend’s shoulder. But, I have never forgotten the experience and truly appreciate the person telling me something that no one else had taken the time to do–ultimately improving my performance.

Emotions Are Scary

I have coached and trained hundreds of people in this critical skill. And, every group or leader has some aversion to the anticipated emotions of the receiver of feedback.

“I don’t want to hurt his feelings.”

“She will be really angry or upset.”

“I don’t want to damage the good in our relationship.”

What are we afraid of?  Diagnose your worry and you are most likely to find your own anxiety in dealing with that person’s emotions. If so, you are protecting your own feelings, not necessarily the other person’s feelings. Basically, we’re scared of our own ability to manage the interaction.

The Way To Think

Most of the antidote is in the way we think about feedback. I’ve learned to push through my reticence with two key questions (for myself).

  1. Do I care enough about this person and his or her performance?
  2. If s/he doesn’t know (the expectations, my observations, etc.), would s/he want to?

Giving feedback is a loving act. You don’t have to love the person, but you do have to care about performance (e.g., his, yours, the team’s, etc.).

A Word of Caution: Some people may attack back, but those are few and far between. Before you back-off, really think about whether you are truly in some political or otherwise danger. Take caution if you need to do so.

What To Do

Take the time (you have the 15 minutes required) to get yourself and your information together.

  1. Set your intention. What do you want to accomplish? How do you want the person to respond? How do you want to behave?
  2. Build a data set, focused on expectations, observations, and impact. Put your assessment language and judgement aside (as best you can).
  3. Consider what impact the person may/would care about. What positive missed opportunity? What negative result? Use what you know about the person to shape your message or intention.
  4. Allow people to feel what they feel. Most negative responses are based in surprises (why haven’t you told me this…for four years?) OR misunderstanding or lack of clarity on expectations  OR very imperfect and differing sets of observations.

If your feedback generates upset, go back (with the other person) to one or more of the four points above. Make the conversation a collaboration.

The Right Time Will Never Come

And if you are waiting for the right or a better time, I can assure you that it will never come. Every feedback book or training says to give “timely” feedback. My standard is to give the feed before the person can make another similar mistake again.

Your information is a gift. The other person may not agree (at first or ever). The other person may have additional data (that shifts your view). But, without your feedback the person does not have the same chance at performance as s/he does with the information.

If this post struck you as valuable, you may also be interested in two other blog posts:

You Said We Can Detach From Our Judgments

So You Think Your Assessment Is Accurate