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The fear of feedback – making it easier

Fear of public speaking, coined glossophobia, is one of the most common phobias that exist.  It’s often one we hear senior leaders complain about, with the thought of speaking in front of crowds or doing big presentations, nerve racking.  However, after many years coaching managers, I’ve uncovered another fear among our leaders.  This one may not be getting the same airtime as glossophobia, but it is very prevalent among those in charge of doing it.  What is it?  The fear of giving feedback.

In my coaching conversations I often discover that a client is averse to giving frequent, open, and constructive feedback.  To them it feels uncomfortable, awkward, or too hard.  To me, this stems back to capability building in core leadership skills, which many organisations aren’t equipping their managers with early enough, if at all!

When I dig into this with my clients, I find much of their reluctance comes down to avoidance.  I see avoidance all around me in organisations.  Rather than leaning in and providing constructive feedback, leaders are holding back from having tough conversations.  Instead, they lay low when things get tough, stay away from conflict, and hope problems will take care of themselves.  BEWARE OF AVOIDANCE; it’s one of the most destructive behaviours in organisations and a key trait holding leaders back.

I’ve been a passionate advocate for, and teacher of, giving feedback for almost 20 years.  Below are my top four tips for building your feedback capability so it’s easier for you and your people to give, and to receive.

1. Think of the positive

The term ‘feedback’ has negative connotations because we forget that it also includes talking about the things individuals are doing well.  Positive feedback is a critical component of getting the best out of people, with high performing teams giving five times more positive feedback than negative, according to HBR (May 2013).

Action: frequently praise team members and colleagues for what they’re doing well.  This can be when you see them working to their strengths, when they’ve overcome something difficult, achieved a goal, or demonstrated great behaviours.

2. Set the scene

When and how you provide feedback is just as important as what you say.  The golden rules are:

  • Timeliness: provide the feedback as close to the action as possible, ideally straight away
  • Environment: move to a space that is appropriate, private, and confidential
  • Understand their perspective: flag what you’d like to talk about and ask for their thoughts first.  If they have good personal awareness, they might do the work for you!
  • Get permission: ask if they are ok for you to provide them with feedback, and honour their request if they say no

Action: think carefully about how and when to provide feedback and set the scene in a respectful way.  If it’s not a good time for them but you feel obliged to provide it (e.g. you’re their leader), ask them to let you know another appropriate time.

3. Provide feedback clearly and succinctly

There are many great feedback models out there, but my favourite is the AID model:

  • A = Action. Be specific about the action you saw, e.g. “In our team meeting yesterday afternoon when you talked over your colleague…”
  • I = Impact. Share the impact on you or others, e.g. “I noticed that she stopped contributing her ideas.”
  • D = Do Differently. Be clear about the change you’re requesting, e.g. “Next time it would be great if you could wait until others have finished speaking before you share your views.”

Action: follow a structure when providing feedback to keep you on track and ensure you’re concise.  People receiving feedback typically want the message conveyed clearly and quickly.  Always allow time for questions and reflection afterwards too.

4. Offer support

As the giver of feedback, there is usually something YOU can do to support the person receiving it.  For example, if the person has done a great job on something, you can offer them an opportunity to further leverage their skills.  Or, if they’re working on improving how they come across in meetings, with their permission you can support them by sharing your observations after meetings.

Action: feedback is more than “say and walk away.”  Make sure you ask if there’s anything you can do to support your teammate and always remember to check in on how they’re feeling, especially if it’s been a tough conversation.

These tips are taken from my Coaching & Feedback for Success and Introduction to Leadership programmes, which offer plenty of opportunity to practice giving feedback with real-life case studies in a supportive environment. Please get in touch if you’d like to know more.

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