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Don’t Disapprove, Develop! 3 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Giving “Constructive” Criticism

Updated: Nov 4, 2020

Some leaders and team members are just awkward when it comes time to giving feedback to someone who works with them.  You may be one of them.

You can tell you upset the other person

You know the benefits of giving honest feedback, but it comes out all wrong. After a feedback conversation, you realize how emotional you sounded and how unreceptive to your message the other person appeared.

When you get to the point of giving feedback, you express anger or disappointment with the other person, and they, in turn, feel hurt by your disapproval. You can tell, as they slink out of the room that they will be telling this story to one or more co-workers soon. They will feel stressed all day and all night, and they will share it with their spouse or partner. You can picture them shaking their head as they try to figure out how to regain your approval. Worse than that, their morale and motivation will tank, and even worse, they may become angry and make plans to quit. Ay yai yai!

At least you aren’t frozen in feedback avoidance

Believe it or not, the fact that you are giving feedback at all is great progress. Some leaders are still stuck in their fears and haven’t given an ounce of constructive feedback. Their employees are blind-sided when it comes time for performance review. It is good you are out of the gate with a new determination to give frequent feedback. We don’t want you to shut up and slip backwards. Digital age workers everywhere today are desperate to be coached, and they want real time feedback. We just need you to shift your focus when you do it next time.

3 questions to ask yourself before your next feedback conversation

Before giving corrective or constructive feedback to anyone, ask yourself the following questions:

1. Why am I upset with this person?

Chances are, there are underlying factors that have existed for days, weeks, or months and you delayed in giving feedback up to this point.

The team member may have screwed up badly. They may have teed off a key customer or wasted thousands of dollars. But, the person had not been thoroughly trained or coached. Or the person doesn’t have the tools or guidelines they need for the job. Neither you nor anyone else had offered feedback when it was clear they hadn’t mastered the process. OR the person has repeatedly behaved inappropriately for the job you need done, and no one has said anything. If that is the case, you are largely responsible for the extreme frustration you are experiencing now.  Action Step: Dial back your anger. Own your part in it. Calm down and place all of your focus on Question 2.

2. What change I would like in the future?

You need to address one thing and one thing only: What you want to see the person doing differently in the future. Any discussion of past behavior must directly serve the purpose of focusing them on your future expectations. A focus on the future, rather than the past, has been shown repeatedly by brain researchers and organizational experts to be exponentially more effective.

Spend a moment visualizing what behaviors you want to see to replace the things you didn’t like. While you’re training yourself to improve your feedback, make notes you can refer to several times before the feedback. Here are some examples of what leaders might want in the future:

-“Please call the customer to apologize & come to a win-win solution and demonstrate empathy skills in future calls. The customer complained all the way up to the VP and we value their ongoing business with us.”

-“Please go through software training and ask peer for coaching on our new system. I see these steps missing and we need that data for financial analysis.”

-“Please give daily progress reports on project work and ask for help immediately if there are any delays. Your unexpected delay created a 3-day lag in delivering the whole project.”

-“Please be proactively in offering help to all of your peers. Two of them are overwhelmed and you are ahead on your part of the project.  

Action step:  Make a crystal clear request for what you want to see. Refer only to past behavior as it helps them see what to do differently.

3. How can I help this person be successful?

Generate a list of ideas for what you can do to shore up their performance in the future. How can you help them stay focused and offer assistance and encouragement along the way? Jot these ideas down with your other notes.

Action step: Offer help for the changes you would like to see. Suggest ideas for how to do that in your feedback discussion and ask them open ended questions about what would help them the most? Reflect back their requests and make authentic commitments to the helpful actions you will take.

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