During our family Passover Seder this year, my 9 and 6-year-old daughters took a break from the meal to play with their 4-year-old cousin in the living room of my in laws' home. The adults continued their conversation over the girls' chatter—until all of our ears perked up. With accurate detail, my older daughter provided her rapt 4 and 6-year-old audience with a description of the classic game—"Spin the Bottle." Clearly, we'd strayed slightly off topic from Moses freeing the Jews in Egypt. After our best wide-eyed emoji impressions, we discovered that she'd learned about this new and interesting topic from our quite mature, but human and flawed date-night babysitter.
I knew I had to give our sitter some feedback in short order and it was not going to be the most comfortable moment for either of us. Root canal date, anyone?
Effectively delivering feedback is one of the skills that separates the inspiring and motivating leaders from those who are simply managers. If it comes naturally to you, congratulations on being part of a very small group of feedback X-Men. For the rest of us, it takes tools and practice to feel like we're delivering a clear and useful message. Here's the approach I share with clients that will help you get your feedback practice up and running.
1. Assume the best
Show up to your feedback conversation with the understanding that this is a smart, well-intentioned person who either made a mistake or could use some support in tweaking his/her approach. If you have some anger about the situation, work through it with a friend or expert before you have the conversation. If you lead with anger when giving feedback, you will prompt your receiver to jump straight to a defensive position—and little will be heard or effectively used to changed behavior.
2. Believe they can succeed and let them know
Put your feedback in the context of your overarching relationship. For my sitter and me—I wanted her to know that I think she's doing a great job and that I trust her judgment with the girls. That's why I'm giving her the feedback. It's because she's good at what she does and I want to help her get better. The tone of the message is, "I'm telling you this because I care."
3. Know why it's important to you
In order for feedback to stick beyond the incident in question, tie it back to a priority or value you hold dear. This will not only drive the point home for your receivers, but will also give them a sense of other areas in their roles that they should apply this same judgment call. By making it personal and relating it to something that's important to you, you're transforming this awkward moment into an opportunity to take a leap instead of a baby step in understanding each other better and deepening the relationship.
4. Make it sound like you
Find your own voice. You can be tough and deliver a clear message without sounding like a drill sergeant. In fact, you will find it comforting in the conversation when you give yourself permission to lean on your strengths. If you're someone who uses humor to connect with people, find a way to bring that in. If you're a natural motivator, use that approach. The more honest and real you are when the message is delivered, the more open people will be to receiving it.
The most important part of this framework is getting yourself out there to practice! You're not helping anyone (including yourself) when you're spiraling in your head (a very comfortable place for many of us). If you have a team and you want to begin your practice, I recommend starting with your star performers. Start with the folks with whom you know you have a good relationship and those who are already doing well—but like everyone they can continue to improve. You can even bring them in on the game. Let them know you're working on providing more feedback to members of the team and that they can let you know how it's working for them. By starting with some easy wins, you can walk into the more challenging feedback conversations with the confidence and calm of a well-prepared leader.