Updated: Nov 6, 2020
When you’re unsure of how to say what you need to say, it’s easy to put it off. There never seems to be a good time for it. I felt that way too until I started to learn more about the world of feedback and how it affects people giving it and people receiving it.
I interviewed a lot of people–bosses, individual employees, people from different industries and levels, and people doing volunteer work–and concluded that the more you delay feedback, more you stir up negative emotions in the brain, both for you and for the other person. (Of course, this applies for relationships outside the workplace, as well…)
When somebody starts to give you less-than-flattering feedback and recalls an incident from the past, “Two months ago you did X at that Y gathering,” you get nervous. You immediately want to know why this person didn’t share their perceptions earlier. You’re thinking “What else are they withholding?” Suddenly, you are emitting all kinds of brain chemicals that say, “I don’t trust this person. I can’t predict what they’re thinking and what they will do next. They are adding unpredictability into my life.”
If you are the giver of that feedback, you are usually more nervous than you would have been two months ago. And your brain is reacting emotionally as well. “How will this person take it? They’re probably wondering why I didn’t tell them earlier. I can’t predict how badly they might react.”
So the footdragging actually increases the weight of the ball and chain you are dragging.
There may have been a good reason for not giving feedback when you made the original observation. You may not have been sure it was important to the goal you had in mind.
That’s totally OK.
But when something wakes you up and you know you have to give the feedback:
1. Stick to the recent event “I noticed you were quiet in Tony’s meeting yesterday.”
2. Describe it in a calm and helpful way “Jerry and Terry appeared confused about our direction.”
3. Explain why it was a problem for you “They are delayed on their parts of the project, and I am concerned some others might get delayed as well.”
4. Make a request for what you’d like them to do in the future “I’d like to ask you to spend time explaining our direction at the next meeting and getting their questions out in the open.”
You don’t need to refer to the earlier event unless they need more background or want to know more about why you are perceiving this. Chances are good that you will feel good after the interaction and you will see fast improvement.
Best of all, you won’t be dragging a heavy weight behind you.