Have you ever tried to give candid and helpful feedback only to have things backfire on you? You were trying to help and instead of getting a receptive ear you got pushback. Perhaps someone failed to deliver, made a mistake or failed on accountability. Has someone used your efforts to coach as a means of seeking advantage, excusing their failures, put you in a bad spot, thrown you under the bus? We all have experienced this at some point. How do you react? Did you feel frustrated or angry? How do we turn ugly into progress?
Confronting others can be tough. Even the most seasoned professional may be caught off guard by feedback. When this happens there may be a temptation to just get through it. Get the unpleasantness over with and move on. You tried, right? Things did not work out this time. You’ll get a chance later. Maybe you’ll bring a bigger hammer.
We can cut our losses and run, but in doing so we may miss the best chance we have to help a team member. So how can we get the most value out of giving feedback?
First, let’s consider the way people behave. It has been my experience that most people have three characteristics in common. First, most people like being right. Second is the corollary, most people prefer not being wrong. The third is the clincher. Many people become dysfunctional to keep from looking goofy. Looking goofy is the individual’s perception that what they did was not only wrong but was of a nature that they should have obviously been able to avoid the behavior and outcome they are currently receiving feedback on. In other words they are worried others think they did something stupid.
With the three above observations in mind, I am going to make a pitch for graciousness in feedback. This applies to both receiving and giving feedback but I am going to focus on the person giving feedback because they often have the power position in the relationship.
When we get into interactions with people, things may not go the way we like. This is true for both routine interactions and especially with difficult conversations. Graciousness involves having the courtesy to accept what someone is offering even when you expect a lot more. Graciousness acknowledges that sometimes people are not at their best and what you are experiencing is not their best. Graciousness is avoiding the temptation to retaliate, strike back, make veiled threats or enjoin in caustic exchanges.
First, let’s check in on your motivation for giving feedback. Are you giving feedback to help improve performance? If not what is our motive? If we are angry, frustrated, appalled, taken aback or otherwise emotionally wound up you might consider picking a time when you are more centered. If your interest is to try to feel better by blasting someone else, this post is not for you. I might also add you will miss a chance to have your people teams and organization perform better.
Second let’s make sure the feedback is about the issue. The issue may have to do with how the person performed but it is intended to improve and not degrade the person. You need to stick to standards of performance but the best way to obtain that performance from senior leaders is to help them see how behavior changes can help them improve. Make it about the performance issue and not the person.
Graciousness puts you at an advantage. Because you choose ahead of time how you will respond you have control and it is less likely you will react in a way that does more harm than good. A visceral response to a visceral situation can spiral out of your control.
Preparing ahead of time is key to being gracious. We can decide prior to any and all interactions that we will take the higher ground.
So what can come from being gracious? How does it promote obtaining the outcome? Graciousness can be disarming. People anticipating feedback may be defensive, embarrassed, and even contentious. Graciousness can help people drop their guard enough to listen and in turn benefit from your feedback. Taking this approach allows you to deliver a coaching moment. You can help people see where they could be performing better.
There will always be set backs on teams who push the envelope. Asking people to push hard and not make any mistakes doesn’t happen. How you respond to setbacks determines if the team will push hard and learn from their errors or play it safe and never admit to a mistake. Help your team see that the only real mistake is not learning from an error. Everything does not need to unfold perfectly to deliver the target outcomes. Showing your team that you are grateful for the efforts they are making, that you expect results but that you recognize there will be some mistakes can help improve the performance of your team.
Show some grace. Let people know you appreciate what they are offering. You may find the results amazing.
© 2016 Differentiating Strategies, LLC