Constructive Feedback: Achieving Positive Outcomes from Tough Conversations

Constructive Feedback: Achieving Positive Outcomes from Tough Conversations

In mConstructive Feedbacky last blog insertion I talked about providing positive feedback and why it’s important to be very specific so that the employee fully understands what he or she is doing well and can continue those actions and behaviors. In this blog, I'll discuss how to address giving constructive feedback, so that you can help an employee improve performance.

Discussing performance improvement often makes a manager feel uncomfortable because he or she does not know how the employee is going to react. Most people tend to be conflict avoidant and dread a conversation about poor performance. Or, even if the manager wants to suggest just a simple “tweak” to refine performance, he or she may unwittingly make things worse through poor word choices and a failure to ask permission.  Many of you think you don't have to ask permission, because you are the boss.  Think again.  This simple modification to your approach will significantly increase your success rate.  Read on to discover how.

Let’s begin with a positive way to help an employee go from good to great. In my prior blog, I provided a specific positive feedback example. Here is an excerpt:

“I really appreciate your helping us win the XYZ project. Your presentation was clear and concise as well as consultative in nature… You were warm and open to their questions and responded confidently…Congratulations!”

While you thought the employee did a wonderful job, you know the next assignment is going to be more challenging and feel that you could help this employee further enhance future presentations. If this is the case, do not say the following: “…but I have some ideas about how you can make it even better.”

Using the word but, when giving feedback is considered a cardinal sin. Using the word but will not only deflate the employee, it will also negate everything you said prior because the employee will only “hear” what is said after the but. This is highly destructive. To accomplish a positive result, I recommend the following two steps. When used together, they usually will result in the desired outcome.

First, replace the but with an and. This technique causes the employee to think that more good is coming and will remain open to what you are about to say.  Second, immediately ask for permission to give the feedback at a time that is right for them. From a neuroscience perspective, this allows the employee to feel in control and prevents defensiveness, by giving him or her the opportunity to delay and accept your feedback when ready.

Here is an example of how you might approach this:

“…You were warm and open to their questions and responded confidently…Congratulations! (Now you can add your constructive feedback) And, if you are open to some suggestions, I have a technique that can enhance your impact even further for your next assignment. Is now a good time, or would you like to schedule an appointment to discuss this later?”

This approach keeps everything positive and puts the employee in the driver’s seat with you as a helpful passenger providing directions.

A tougher situation occurs when you must address sub-optimal performance. Here you want to plan your conversation carefully and rehearse it so you don’t get derailed. In her book, Fierce Conversations¸ Susan Scott has a very effective template for approaching performance improvement discussions. I have paraphrased the following seven steps she recommends to be included in your opening statement and kept to one minute if possible.

  1. Name the issue (Describe the behavior causing the problem).
  2. Pick a specific example that demonstrates the behavior you want changed.
  3. Describe your emotions that surround this issue (e.g., anger, frustration, disappointment).
  4. Clarify what’s at stake if the current behavior doesn’t change.
  5. Identify your contribution to the problem.
  6. State that you wish to resolve the issue.
  7. Invite the employee to respond with his or her thoughts.

The real discussion begins during the employee's response so that you can gain his or her perspective and help the employee get back on track. I encourage you to get the detail from Scott’s book. It is required reading for all my coaching clients. This is not something you should do lightly. To be successful, careful planning, thought and rehearsal is required if you want to achieve a positive outcome.



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