Don’t Give Feedback Until You Read This

It’s time for a difficult conversation with a colleague or employee. A project just finished and didn’t go as anyone had hoped. You are dreading raising it directly. You are worried about how he or she will respond.  So you are procrastinating and reading this article.

Good timing.

I estimate that at least 80% of the time, people already know what you are about to tell them about their performance. Yet somehow it is the manager’s responsibility to give corrective feedback??! We are so much more receptive to ideas for improvement when we come up with them ourselves.

Instead of jumping in to offer your perspective, try these more developmental, coaching steps :

  1. create time and space for a real conversation in private. Extend this invitation: “I was wondering if we could put our heads together on the project that just finished.” Maybe you can go for a walk, or for a cup of tea, just the two of you.
  2. ask this question: “I am curious…if you had a do-over of this project, what would you keep the same and what would you do differently?” Let him or her answer first, as fully as they can. Actively listen.
  3. only then, and preferably after being invited, offer your perspective. What would you agree with (I call these “underlines”) in what you heard? What would you add to the list?
  4. ask this question: “what would some good next steps be?” Actively listen.
  5. only then, and preferably after being invited, offer your underlines and additions to the proposed next steps.
  6. express gratitude for the other person’s work, and for the relationship you share

The funny thing is, these steps work just as well when projects go well too. No matter how well a project goes, or how badly it bombs, there are always things to keep and always things to adjust. Try routinizing these conversations after every project. By taking this more developmental approach, you are keeping the “coachee” in the driving seat. You are building their capability to learn and grow. And you are strengthening your relationship with each other.