In of one of our recent leadership programmes we asked the participants: “What kind of conversations do you find the most difficult?” The answers were overwhelmingly uniform:
What’s hardest for people is to give feedback, particularly when:
- Someone’s performance doesn’t meet expectations
- Someone feels that they’re exceeding expectations, but they don’t even meet them
- Someone is trying hard after the last feedback, AND they still underperform.
Does that sound like you? Well, you’re not alone! Giving constructive criticism is notoriously difficult for leaders.
The fact is: Leaders dread their performance appraisal conversations as much as their direct reports. They don’t know how to communicate that a piece of work missed the mark. They struggle with addressing a specific behaviour that upset the team and needs to be addressed for the sake of keeping up productivity.
For some leaders giving feedback never feels easy.
But feedback models don’t take away your fear.
It’s what you think could wrong in the conversation that makes you nervous. And those models will not magically disappear what you’ve made up!
So let’s get the the bottom of the fear. In our programme we went on to ask our participants WHY these types of feedback conversations are so hard for them.
Here’s a selection of their responses, and I’m sure you’ll be able to add more to our short list:
- The person’s motivation could go down, and then you would be even worse off.
- The person could lash out and attack you. What if it all ends in conflict?
- You cannot predict their response, but you fear for the worst.
The first fear is about wrecking someone’s motivation. As a coach, I’ve heard this many times: “If I give that person honest feedback, I might lose the bit of useful output I’m getting from them now. Worst case is that they’ll leave, and I don’t know how long it would take to get a replacement .”
The second fear is about conflict: “If I give that colleague constructive feedback, I might get hurt. We might fall out, and then I’ll lose the little influence I have with them now.”
When these or similar worries hold you back from conversations you should be having, then a feedback model will not solve your problem.
Don’t get me wrong: It’s good to continuously improve your feedback skills, and you can do so with a good feedback model. Or you can use the very effective tool of non-violent communication.
However, your thoughts of all the ways this conversation could go wrong, and the emotions that this situation evokes in you are part of your conversations. No matter how well you plan your feedback. In other words, your fear or frustration makes you tense. A tension which the other person will sense, no matter how hard you try to hide behind your professional mask. In fact, the other person does not even primarily hear your words (except, I’m sorry to say, the words that really STING). What they do focus on is your tone of voice, your facial expressions and your body language. It’s the non-verbal messages that stick.
So if the thought of your next feedback conversation makes your toe nails roll up, then you need to face your fears. When you deliver feedback from a place of calm and confidence, it has a much better chance to be received gracefully.
If leaders in your organisation struggle with honest conversations, get in touch with us for leadership development and coaching.