I was leading a session with a group recently when the topic of feedback came up. The room froze. "What's your relationship with feedback?" I asked. "Fear, avoidance, dread, ineffective" were words that came up while the energy of discomfort and heaviness permeated the room.
This is often how people respond to the conversation that is feedback. And it doesn't have to be that way.
Here's the thing... feedback, done well, is a gift. Feedback withheld (especially if you're sharing it with others but not the person you're actually talking about), is cruel.
Feedback is a bridge between "here" and "there". The offering that says "I see you"and "I believe in you". And the way leaders are born. Yet it is highly misused and misunderstood, hence the hesitation to give or receive really good quality productive feedback.
In order to make your feedback count, and count well, you must make sure it includes the following things:
It's timely and done in the right space. Make sure that it's provided about something recent and real, and make sure that both yours, and the receiver's state of mind is in the right place. Feedback on something done 6 months ago, or when either of your are hungry, angry, rushing, grumpy, tired, or heading into your next client meeting is not so great. Make it timely, make it "in-tune", and make it count.
It's in service of. Is it truly going to serve this person in becoming more effective and growing their leadership, or is it a personal gripe or opinion? Check yourself. Before you give the feedback, make sure it will actually be in service of the receiver. If it's not in service of their growth, it may be just more of a personal conversation or a personal opinion--not feedback.
You have permission. Make sure they want it. If they don't want it, that's their call. If you find yourself really attached to making sure they get it, check yourself and your motivation. If it's because it's personal, let it go. If you're projecting your own stuff--stop it. If it's because their future success in their role depends on it, reiterate that you think it's really important to their success. And then it's their call. BTW, people generally desire really good clean feedback that will help them grow/improve/optimize their impact. If they don't want your feedback, it may be a reflection of their relationship with you, the energy they sense coming from you, or the quality of feedback you've provided in the past. Get curious.
You've given them something to step into. One of the reasons feedback is so scary is because it's often done in a "hit and run" fashion with nowhere to step into. Give your person something to step into that will make the situation better. If they did something that wasn't optimal, what would optimal look like? What would you like to see instead? Give them a place to step into... not just "that sucked". (BTW, if you don't know exactly what the next place to step into for them is, no problem, be willing to figure it out with them.)
You're responsible for your impact. So you've given them feedback and now they're lying on the ground in the fetal position sucking their thumb with no clue what to do with it. This is not good feedback. Instead, you'll want to watch your own intention, energy, and presence (IEP) as you give it to them. And then, you'll want to stick around and be responsible for the impact of the feedback you just provided. Did it actually land? Does it make sense? How can you support them in integration? (Bonus points if you get feedback on your feedback; how you made them feels and if it was effective.)
Your energy and presence throughout, of course, has to be great; present, in service of, caring, and also that of holding a stake in the ground for them that says "You're awesome, I believe in you, I see you, this will make you even more effective, let's roll".
Hit these 5 points, enhance your leadership impact, contribute to their performance, help them take their "good" to "great". Bamm.
This article first appeared on Inc.com on August 3, 2015.