I coach a lot of leaders and probably the top task they have anxiety about is giving feedback. When I ask them why they’re hesitant, I hear comments such as:

“I’m afraid it will be uncomfortable; they’ll get upset.”

“I don’t like conflict and feedback feels like conflict.”

“This person always gets defensive and starts asking, ‘who said that?’ ‘give me an example’ “

“I’m afraid they’ll cry or yell, and I hate emotion in the workplace.”

Leaders will often want to roleplay a performance discussion they’re going to have and have me help them with the words. I tell them that first we’re going to work on their mindset and then we’ll work on their words. When we focus on how something is going to make us feel, we react mentally with the idea, “What will keep me safe?”

Most of us have a protective tendency that we rely on; either we’re

  1. overly pleasant
  2. overly-controlling or
  3. overly-intellectual

Depending on our favorite protective tendency:

  1. we either avoid the discussion or offer vague, non-specific feedback
  2. come on too strong so the other person knows we’re in charge, or
  3. retreat to rationality and ignore the humanity of the other individual.

All of these protective tendencies can result in no improvement in performance.

Our protective tendencies start out as gifts or strengths and end up being over-used. To keep from falling into unhelpful patterns, we need to adopt a creative mindset. We need to ask ourselves, “What outcome do I want to create from this discussion.”

When I ask leaders this question, invariably they want the person to succeed. Either by

  1. stopping something they’re doing,
  2. starting something they’re not doing, or
  3. changing the way they’re doing something currently.

I have yet to meet a leader who hopes their employee will fail. So I ask them, “How can this person succeed if they don’t get this information?” By focusing on creating an outcome of success for this employee going forward, feedback can be empowering instead of demotivating.

I love this quotation:
“Give feedforward not feedback.”
― Chris Dyer