How do I give challenging feedback to a team member, in such a way that they accept it and act on it? This has been a popular conversation in my network of late. It seems that the mix of uncertainty, anxiety and remote working has given rise to more behaviors that require management attention!

Even on a good day, very few of us are genuinely comfortable providing honest and direct feedback, especially if it’s corrective in nature. From experience, this is true regardless of seniority, gender or geography. And yet, all of us would agree that providing high quality feedback is an absolutely critical leadership skill to master; now, more than ever.

There are numerous feedback techniques and managers often fixate on them; from ‘start, stop, continue’, to ‘feedforward’, to the dreaded and dreadful ‘feedback sandwich’, among others. It’s natural to focus on techniques, they give us an apparent safe haven in this tricky situation. But take it from someone whose livelihood depends on giving effective feedback; techniques are not as important as you may think. If you hope to have others accept and act on your feedback, the three principles below matter a whole lot more.

Check your motive

Self-interest is a feedback killer. No matter how good your technique, you will almost certainly fail if you are singularly focused on your outcomes, your needs and your point of view. On the flip-side, you can get away with clumsy delivery if the receiver believes that you are providing your feedback in their best-interests. Before you give feedback to anyone, I encourage you to:

  • Ensure your motivation is pure. Unless your feedback is in the receiver’s best interests, there’s really no point going any further.
  • Focus on contribution not control. Any attempt to manipulate the receiver will be obvious and ineffective. In any case, the outcome of your feedback is unpredictable, so ensure that it’s worth giving regardless.
  • Imagine the receiver is a dear friend. If you convey a genuine sense of care for the receiver, your likelihood of success will increase dramatically. In fact, this one simple idea is a game changer.

Set yourself up for success

Surprising the receiver will reduce your chances of success, even if your motive is pure. A warm audience is a more receptive audience. Patronizing the receiver is even worse than surprising them. I encourage you to:

  • Ensure you have enough credibility to offer feedback. If you’re not a very good example of what “good looks like”, then your feedback will land somewhere between condescending and delusional.
  • Be mindful about when and how you give your feedback. Choose a time, place and format that is conducive to a warm response. A coffee meeting, in person or virtual, usually works well.
  • Ask for permission to provide feedback, or reaffirm the permission that you’ve already been given. Do this even if you’re the boss. It gives the receiver a moment to pause and prepare, rather than just react. It also gives them a sense of ownership and control.

Focus on impact, not intent

To deliver your feedback effectively, you should only ever critique impact or behavior, never intention. As soon as you judge another person’s intention, you are effectively judging their character, which forces them into a defensive stance. Let them know, that you know, they have noble intentions. Stick to specific and recent behaviors you have observed, rather than your interpretation or judgment of those behaviors. Beyond that, I encourage you to:

  • Be clear, direct and succinct in your delivery. The longer you take to get to the point, the more tension you will create.
  • Establish a two-way dialogue. Invite the receiver to participate actively in the conversation. If they are unable or unwilling in that moment, ask them to reflect overnight and reconvene the following day.
  • Support the receiver to take action. Reinforce your desire to support their ongoing growth, contribution and success.

I hope this blog enables you to provide honest, direct and increasingly effective feedback to your colleagues, so that you learn, grow and contribute even more together over time..

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about PETER

For two decades, Dr. Peter Fuda has been a Sherpa to leaders, teams and organizations across the globe. He’s coached more than 250 CEOs to measurably higher levels of performance. His consulting company has delivered dozens of cases of business transformation and thousands of individual cases of leadership transformation, at a success rate of greater than 90%.

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