4 min read

how to give your people the feedback they crave (even though you hate to give it)

Nov 20, 2021 4:52:36 AM

Are your people getting enough feedback?

Well according to the research the answer is most likely no.


This research from Harvard Business Review, points out some interesting trends. As you can see, we all crave receiving feedback far more than we enjoy giving it. Not only that but we actually crave critical feedback over positive.

So if people want feedback so much, why are we so overwhelmingly reluctant to provide it?

Ask anyone who is reluctant to give someone else feedback and you will get the same answer. They are worried it will be an ‘awkward conversation.’ They are worried the other person will grow combative or defensive. In reality these are projections we place on others that the data simply does not back up.

As I like to say, feedback is a gift - you just need to know how to wrap it. Make the wrapping too pretty (saying a whole bunch of nice things before hitting them with the thing they need to improve) and people will focus on the wrapping over the gift inside. Make the wrapping too ugly (harsh, blunt and direct) and people won’t want to open it. Make the gift too hard to open (rambling, incoherent and full of metaphors to try and soften the message) and it won’t be worth the effort to try and unwrap.

You need a simple, effective and proven way to provide feedback over a variety of situations and that is what I aim to provide you with here. These five steps can and should be followed each and every time you need someone to correct their behaviour.

To explain these steps I’m going to use a common workplace situation, someone who is being very blunt and direct in their communication with others, causing disharmony in their team. You as their leader, need to give them this feedback in an effort to have them improve how they communicate with others.

1 - State The Undesired Behaviour Matter-of-Factly: 

You do not want to waste any time or energy debating if they are misbehaving. Beginning the conversation by clearly stating the behaviour you want changed eliminates that debate. Often, the feedback provider begins the conversation too timidly for fear of offending the person. All this does is open the door for them to push back on whether or not their behaviour is in fact a problem. Stating the behaviour matter-of-factly also removes any perceived judgement from your statement, reducing defensiveness. You are not saying the behaviour is wrong, you are simply stating you have noticed it.

In this case you would say something to the effect of, “I notice your communication with others becomes blunt and direct quite often.” You then stop talking. Silence will prompt them to respond, often with agreement.


2 - Ask Them What Their Behaviour Gets Them:

You then follow-up with a very simple question, “What does that get you?”, or “What does that help you accomplish?” It is important to remember that most undesired behaviour in the workplace happens for a reason. The person is trying to make something happen. They wouldn’t be doing what they are doing without a reason, that reason is just largely unknown to them in the moment. Asking this question helps to make them conscious of the behaviour so they can actually change it.

In this case the person may respond by saying it helps them hit their deadlines or get things done faster or it keeps people from distracting them. It does not matter what the response is, it simply matters that you get a response from them.


3 - Highlight The Hidden Cost:

Once they have told you what the undesired behaviour gets them, your job is to make them aware of the added cost it is creating elsewhere. 

In this case you may say, “I understand efficiency matters to you. The problem is that directness is causing people to misunderstand and/or avoid you which is creating other problems in the team.”

4 - Offer a Better Tool:

Again, the person is using the undesired behaviour to try and accomplish something, your job is to help them maintain that accomplishment, you just need them to do so in a more constructive way.

“If we could come up with a way to keep you efficient, without the need to be as blunt and direct, would that help you?”

Once again this limits defensiveness because your focus is on helping them, not punishing them. 

5 - Commit to Support and Direction:

Feedback often fails because the provider is so anxious and worked up over giving it, that once they have given it, they feel relieved and think the problem has been solved. Behavioural change does not happen overnight. It is an evolution. You must continue to check-in and provide direction (show them what to do and how to do it) and support (meeting their emotional needs while they struggle through building this new skill).

Following these five steps is a proven way of giving feedback in even the most triggering of situations. A caution however - your own Behavioural biases and blind-spots will influence both your desire and ability to follow all five steps with consistency. For specific help check out our LinkedIn Company page where we have detailed tips for Yellows, Greens, Blues and Reds on what those blind-spots are and how to overcome them.

And of course, if you have any feedback for us on how well this did or did not work for you, drop them in the comments below.

Shane Wallace

Written by Shane Wallace

Shane is the Founder & CEO of CultureSmith Inc. He works with leaders and teams of high-growth organizations to help them overcome the behavioural and emotional issues that prevent their growth. Leveraging the CultureSmith Growth & Sustainability Framework, Shane helps demystify the the theories of Psychological Safety, Emotional Intelligence and Servant Leadership to turn companies into places people care about.