In our two previous articles, we discussed the roles of underlying intent and purpose when giving feedback. A powerfully useful underlying intent and strategic purpose can enable feedback to build a person's capabilities and contribution. But it can all fizzle when the feedback is poorly delivered. So, now we turn to the third facet of feedback, delivery, which is about how the message comes across to the receiver.
There are myriad ways our delivery can either jettison or shut down feedback to the recipient. Since it would be a shame to come so far with a productive underlying intent and purpose only to lose it all through a botched delivery, this article will discuss how to deliver a feedback message that can be heard and applied for positive results.
Place, time, circumstances, and surroundings all affect how well your feedback gets delivered. If you find you can't stop yourself from answering those pesky phone calls, responding to messages, or making eye contact with everyone who walks past your office, go somewhere else. Turn off your phone. Shut down the computer. Leave the office. You might need the privacy, anyway. If it's hard to hear or concentrate because your surroundings are extremely noisy, hot, cold, or dusty, find a conference room or office that's better. Just make sure you leave yourself plenty of time to get your message across in the best way possible.
When the message is tough, you might think twice about crouching behind your email and lobbing a live feedback grenade over to the recipient. If you find it hard to say what needs to be said and the conversation could possibly raise your body temperature, make the other person squirm, or stimulate someone's sweat glands, you need to have it in person. The same applies when the message requires some discussion, which good feedback conversations usually do. That means no email, voice messages, or texting, but an in-person, eye-to-eye interaction. When it's truly not feasible to meet in person -- not because you just don't want to -- technology allows us the "next best thing to being there," video conferencing.
How you get the message out is just as important as where, when, and under what circumstances. If the feedback is important enough to share, it's important enough to be given clearly, succinctly, and without muddying the message with emotionally charged judgmental words, a raised voice, or other intimidating behavior. Instead of using words or insinuations like "stupid," "lazy," and "irresponsible," it would be better to describe what the person did, the results it created, what would have been a better response or solution, and why.
Overstating and understating also dilutes or garbles the message. The more diluted or garbled the message, the less it's useful to the receiver. Don't preface a difficult message with phony compliments, beat around the bush, or sandwich the message between two positives to soften it. Just say what you have to say in a direct and helpful way consistent with your purpose and intent. Instead of, "You're a great employee, but..." try, "I need to have a conversation with you that may be difficult for both of us. It concerns the number of times you've...which caused... "
Feedback should be actionable. It doesn't do anyone any good to be told, "You did a lousy job. Do it better next time," when the person has no idea what "lousy" and "better" mean in the eyes of the critic-boss. Instead, be specific as to what you want to change and why it's important.
Leaders create the same frustration when they drop a bunch of numbers on a screen that are meaningless to front line employees. In most cases, employees don't know what to do with the information. Instead, leaders should teach employees the fundamentals of the business and help them understand how to apply current data to what they do each day so the feedback is helpful.
One more point on "Style." Effective delivery is not about spin. It's about straightforward, authentic messages to help a person or situation. Spin is manipulation. Among other things, it weakens the credibility of the feedback giver, and therefore, the message. Feedback recipients can generally tell whether the message is open, honest, and complete, and find the feedback easier to accept when it is.
In short, there's more to delivering feedback than what we may learn from workshops on assertive feedback for nice people or feedback tact for bullies. If we want feedback to get the best chance of being heard and used to make a positive difference, we should consider all the elements of delivery, including setting and style. Ultimately, it's the delivery that makes underlying intent and feedback purpose work because when you're giving feedback, what the recipient experiences in the delivery will determine what they get from the message.
Trying it on for fit:
Inventory your delivery in any feedback you have given recently. Consider how you applied the principles of Setting and Style to share the message effectively. What did you learn about how well you delivered the message? Are you creating the best situation for your feedback to be heard in a way that the recipient will do something productive with it? Consider any difficult feedback you have been putting off. How might you use the principles of underlying intent, purpose, and delivery to make it a positive and productive experience for both you and the recipient?
Send an email and let me know what you learn from your experiences. I would love to hear from you!