Episode 2(A) of our Leadership Series started a series of its own: communication. We talked about a maybe not so obvious communication tool which we sometimes forget to use, or maybe don’t make enough use of, out of our desire to communicate right away. We talked about listening.
In this episode, we'll talk about one of the tools we use – almost all the time – to express ourselves, our likes and dislikes, wants and needs: feedback. More specifically, giving feedback. We’ll talk about receiving feedback in our next episode. This time, let’s see how we express it.
Feedback is a powerful communication tool if it’s used regularly, on time and done properly. It encourages open communication within teams, increases accountability and trust among team members, and leads to good and healthy relationships.
"Let me give you some feedback," "I don’t like how they tackled this, but I can’t tell them that," "I’m afraid I’ll hurt their feelings if I give them negative feedback."
Situations of all sorts where we’d rather avoid telling the people around us how we stand for fear we’d hurt them, jeopardize the relationship or demotivate them. We tend to associate feedback with criticism and tend to avoid giving it as much as possible.
In doing that, we in fact delay communication from happening when it needs to happen, the result being that, when we finally can’t deal with the situation anymore and decide to give our feedback, it’s often too late and irrelevant!
What is good feedback?
Good feedback can be either positive or negative.
What makes it ‘good’ is the fact that it serves a good purpose, it helps us grow, learn or understand things from a different perspective. It is also the fact that we feel good about it, even when it’s negative, because it opens up a dialogue. Good feedback is a productive dialogue!
Good feedback focuses on behaviour, not personality.
Behaviour is what a person does or says, actions you can photograph or words you can record.
When we focus on behaviour, what we are saying is similar to listening to a story or watching a movie.
When we focus on behaviour, we don’t tell people who or what they are or aren’t. We tell them:
- what they said or didn’t say
- what they did or didn’t do
Good feedback makes the other see things from a different stand-point.
This is why it’s important to use ‘I’ messages – where the focus is on how I view things, not on how you are or are not. You will know better than me how you are.
Therefore, when I say something like, "you are wrong" the immediate reply will be, "no, I’m not." Saying something like, “I didn’t like it that you assumed I wanted to leave earlier” is more specific and leaves room for us to clarify both our stand-points.
Giving positive feedback
We talked about ‘I’ messages. They are called this way because they help us start the discussion with ourselves in the spotlight, not the other. So, we start the sentence with ‘I’ instead of ‘You’.
I [action] + when / how you [action] + result / effect
Instead of ‘You’…
You handled the complaint well.
Start with ‘I’…
I appreciate how you kept your cool and maintained an assertive stance when our client complained; it looked professional.
Starting with ‘I’ helps me be more specific and give you valuable input. It helps me ‘make the movie’ of what happened and give my definition of a ‘professional’ outlook. It is specific, clear, and it helps you know what you did well.
Note: "You are great!" – is not feedback. It’s an appreciation, nothing more. It leaves you with no clue of why I just said that and it gives you the possibility to say "no, I’m not."
Giving negative feedback
We also use ‘I’ messages when we give negative feedback (or especially then)! The difference from positive feedback is that we also include our feelings in the equation and direct the discussion towards a solution that is acceptable to us in the future.
I [action] + when / how you [action] + feelings + result / effect + desired solution
Instead of ‘You’…
You were late, it’s unacceptable!
Start with ‘I’…
I was there with the client, waiting for you. I couldn’t reach you and didn’t know what to tell the client.
I felt frustrated and angry and I had to make extra efforts to maintain a composed appearance and reschedule the meeting.
I would like to hear what happened, because I want to avoid this from happening in the future.
Note: "You’re so negative" – is not feedback. It’s a statement that can be contradicted. It makes me almost immediately reply "no, I’m not." It also doesn’t feed me any valuable information as to what makes you say that or what you understand by it.
It is important to address our feelings when we give negative feedback because that helps the other empathize and relate to our situation easier.
Giving feedback, especially when it’s negative, means courage; the courage to be honest, to tell you my truth and how things look from where I stand, while feeling uncomfortable and expecting you will disagree with me. It’s the courage to start a dialogue on what doesn’t work so we can agree on what will work for both of us from now on.
The courage to address difficult points is the definition of accountability. We’re holding ourselves accountable by choosing to address the issue rather than ignore it. And we’re holding the others accountable by discussing the issue with them. Accountability fosters trust, which is the key ingredient in any good relationship.
And isn’t that what good leaders build?