In my last post, I pointed out how important it is to have the right mindset when giving feedback. With the right mindset, it almost doesn’t matter which words you pick—your approach will be more successful in any case.
Two questions arise for my clients when they hear this news. First of all: How do I get this mindset? And secondly: What do I do to get better at feedback before I actually change my mind? Here’s where some techniques might help. Imagine that you need to give some feedback to a member of your team who is performing well in many ways, but who seems to not return client calls—even calls from those clients you consider most important.
You could take him aside and yell at him, saying “Listen buster! If you don’t call clients back within 60 minutes, you’re fired!” You could chase your tail, as Clive did in my last post, asking leading questions like, “Are you getting the chance to make all the client calls you’re wanting to make this week?” and hope he comes clean. You could offer a kind of motivational speech filled with hints about your expectations, “Here at CandleCorp, our clients are our number one priority!”
Or you could take a deep breath and give him all the information that’s lurking in your mind in the hopes that it might help him work his way towards a solution. Barry Jentz and Joan Wofford, in their book Talk Sense, suggest this simple (but not easy) pattern to remember when giving feedback is just to say:
WHEN (and give the facts of the situation)
I FEEL (and talk about the emotional impact on you)
BECAUSE (and talk about what happened as a result of this action)
So, you might say, “When you didn’t call our major client back after her second time trying to reach you, I felt frustrated and confused because I feared that this lack of customer service might send her to our competitors.”
Now here’s where mindset comes back in. You could take this same pattern and say, “When you’ve ignored our client calls, I’ve felt that you’re being irresponsible because you’re not doing your job.” I hope you notice that this second sentence is both less helpful and probably more threatening than the one above it. So how do you use this pattern of giving feedback like the first example, and avoid the traps in the second? Let’s combine mindset with skills to make that work.
WHEN: Here you want to give the literal facts of the case, without judgment. It’s as if you’re laying a set of cards on the table for both of you to examine together. What actually happened? What was the difference between the events as they transpired and the judgment or sense I made of those events? See if you can scrub the data clean of your judgment and lay it out so that you can both see and agree to it.
I FEEL: People sometimes shy away from giving feelings at work, explaining that they don’t think of feelings as “professional” somehow. Increasing research shows that we always bring our emotions along with us, and whether we admit to that or not doesn’t actually change that. People will know if you’re angry or irritated or afraid—but they won’t know how to calibrate those emotions, so they’ll make up stories about what you’re feeling. If you want to be in control of how people understand your emotions, you have to tell them.
BECAUSE: Interestingly, here’s where it often breaks down. You can figure out what happened and you know you’re mad about it. But why are you mad? Often you have to really ask yourself questions here. Do you worry about the impact on the team? On productivity? Are you concerned that you’ll look bad? That others will see this negative behavior and join in? Sometimes you have to go back and look at the data again to try to piece this apart.
And as you unbraid these three pieces, you may well find that your mindset begins to shift. You see that your sense of the data is just one way of making sense of it, that your emotions about it may be tied to a variety of different pieces all bound up together, and that the impact is as much a fear as it is an actual occurrence. This might even encourage you to not say anything at all to the person, but that would be a mistake. With these new feedback skills and mindsets, you want to hold one more question in your mind: “If someone were upset with me because I had done something wrong, would I want to know or would I want him to keep it a secret from me?” Most of my clients want to know—and you probably do too. It’s not fun to give or receive feedback, but it’s a key source of learning for us at work, and the more of it we can give and get, the more learning we’ll have. If we can find ways to give and get feedback that are open and careful, with the right tools and the right mindset, we might find that feedback becomes a lot less frightening, and a lot more welcome.