How often have you encountered resistance when you are giving feedback to a Direct Report or colleague at work? While people seldom resist “positive feedback,” remarks about behavior that is not so positive often lead to pushback from the receiver!
In fact, people often delay or “water-down” feedback when they anticipate resistance. Yet, hearing candid and timely feedback is essential. People need to hear both what they are doing well and what they are not doing well in order to grow professionally.
Reinforcing Versus Redirecting Feedback
In a previous article about Receiving Feedback, we noted that most people don’t mind receiving “praise,” yet they have much more difficulty with “constructive feedback.” We described praise as “Reinforcing Feedback” and less favorable feedback as “Redirecting Feedback.”
- Reinforcing Feedback suggests that you like what the other person has done and want to see MORE of this behavior. Giving Reinforcing Feedback helps to build your Emotional Bank Account with others! Give it freely and often!
- Redirecting Feedback suggests that the other person’s behavior is ineffective or inappropriate and you would like them to do LESS of it. People are more likely to be receptive to Redirecting Feedback if you have often given them Reinforcing Feedback.
Effective Ways of Giving Feedback
As you might expect, you are much more likely to encounter resistance when offering Redirecting Feedback. Yet, because timely and candid Redirecting Feedback is essential for people to grow and improve their effectiveness, it is important to know the most effective way to deliver these messages!
1. Avoid Advice and Speculation When Giving Feedback.
One of the main reasons that people resist Redirecting Feedback is that those giving feedback bundle it with things that tend to cause resistance on their own. There are two common things that get attached to feedback:
- Advice – For example, “What I think you should do is go ahead and confront Joe. You’re letting him get by with too much.”
- Speculation – For example, “I suspect that you haven’t confronted Joe because he is 20 years older than you. He can be intimidating.”
Bundling feedback with advice or theories about underlying causes will dramatically increase the chance that the receiver will push back!
2. Stick to Behavior and Impact When Giving Feedback.
The best way to provide Redirecting Feedback without getting a lot of pushback is to stick with the behavior that has been observed, along with the impact of that behavior.
Example 1 – Running Late
Let’s assume that you have recently scheduled three meetings with a person named Robin. She did not show up on time for the first meeting. You called her when she was ten minutes late and she apologized, saying, “I lost track of time. I’ll be right there.” She was on time for the second meeting, yet was late again for the third meeting. You decide that you want to address Robin’s behavior and its impact.
Describe the Behavior: “Robin, we have recently scheduled three meetings for just the two of us. You did not arrive on time for two out of these three meetings.”
Describe the Impact: “While you may have a good explanation for being late, I’d like to focus on the impact of being late for our meetings. I’m finding that it clearly affects how much we can accomplish together. My schedule is very full, and when we schedule these meetings, I estimate how much time we need to accomplish our objectives. I usually have commitments right after our scheduled completion time. If you arrive late, we either have to rush through our agenda or I need to adjust my remaining daily schedule to accommodate our delayed start time. I don’t want this to become a pattern that affects how much I can expect to accomplish when I meet with you.”
Note: The focus is only on Robin’s behavior and the impact it is having on you. You are not offering advice or theories about why Robin has been late.
Potential Underlying Causes: Maybe Robin tends to be disorganized. Perhaps she has a habit of procrastination. If SHE wants to volunteer why she has tended to be late, that’s fine. Yet, sticking with the impact usually tends to reduce the amount of resistance during this type of feedback discussion.
Example 2 – Talking Too Much
Now, let’s assume that you are a manager who has a Direct Report named John. John is the newest member of your team and has attended the two most recent staff meetings. Five other people also attend these meetings, yet John is clearly the person who has had the most to say. In fact, he takes so much “airtime” that, by the end of the meetings, some teammates roll their eyes when John shares another thought. You invite John to your office to offer some feedback on his behavior and its impact.
Describe the Behavior: “John, I have noticed that you have been sharing a lot of your ideas in recent staff meetings. In fact, you participate far more often than anyone else in the meetings.”
Describe the Impact: “In the meeting yesterday, I sensed that there were other people who wanted to give their opinions. Yet, others could not break into the conversation. I even saw a couple of people rolling their eyes when you spoke. I am not sure if you were aware of how others were reacting to your participation level. You are relatively new on the team. I’m sure that you don’t want others to see you as someone who talks more than he listens.
The way this affects me is that I need to hear from others in the meetings as well. If we don’t make sure that most people participate, we may miss out on some really good ideas. Additionally, I want everyone to look forward to these meetings. If we don’t have a balanced discussion, the others may view the meetings less favorably. I can see that you have some very good ideas. I want you to share them. Yet, I also don’t want you to miss out on what you can learn from the others. We have a very smart team here, and I still learn a lot when everyone weighs in on a topic.”
Note: In this case, the impact statements are not limited to how the behavior pattern affects the manager. Therefore, the manager also addresses the impact on other team members, as well as how others may view John as a result of his behavior. Finally, the manager suggests that John may be missing out on an opportunity to learn from others on the team.
3. Give Feedback at an Effective Time and Place.
Perhaps you are wondering why John’s manager did not address the amount of time that he was talking during the meeting itself. He might have said something like, “Thank you for your ideas and suggestions, John. Now I’d like to hear from the others.” Or, he might have politely cut John off, thanked him for his thoughts, and then moved his eye contact to others in the room.
There are risks involved in cutting John off in the meeting or pointing out that others are not being heard. It may be embarrassing to John and could create some unnecessary tension in the room.
Other Aspects of Giving Feedback
In a future article, we’ll explore another important aspect of giving feedback: how to listen and respond to the receiver of the feedback after you have delivered your behavior and impact message!
LaMountain & Associates has been helping people in the workplace learn how to give and receive feedback since 1981. Please contact us for a free consultation about ways that you or your organization can improve skills in giving and receiving feedback.