We have discussed the fact that many people have very pessimistic feelings about giving or receiving feedback, and especially negative feedback. Let’s face it. Based on our previous experiences, or our lack of previous experience, we go into situations with a negative mindset and that makes it even more challenging to have a successful conversation. It’s hard to succeed when you start in such a bad place. That’s why you should question how you think about feedback.
Change Your Mindset
I may sound like Pollyanna, the overwhelmingly positive title character from a 1913 fictional book, but you need to approach feedback with a positive attitude. If you can succeed in doing this, you will start a productive rather than punitive conversation. Here are four fundamental assumptions you should consider adopting that will help you in your endeavor to be more positive, even when giving negative feedback:
Assumption #1: The Primary Purpose Is To Improve Future Behavior and Results
If you go into the discussion with this understanding, it will change how you approach the discussion. To reinforce this positive approach, we recommend that you change the name you give ‘negative feedback’ to something like ‘redirection’. You are redirecting behavior with the goal of positive change. Otherwise, if you are like many people, you may continue with your current mindset that the purpose is to punish previous behavior.
Assumption #2: The Discussion Is About the Behavior, or Results of the Behavior, and the Impact on the Business
You are redirecting the behavior of the person with the goal of improving their results and having a positive impact on the business. It is not about criticizing the individual. This keeps your comments from being a personal attack on the individual, which is very challenging for anyone to hear.
Assumption #3: The Employee is Responsible for Their Behavior and Results, But They Can and Should Get ‘Help’ To Be Successful
The employee is ultimately responsible for their results. That assumption can’t change. However, in many cases, systemic issues outside the employee’s control may have contributed to the situation. Or, they may be able to succeed with ‘reasonable’ assistance from their manager or someone else who is involved. The goal of the manager should be to keep the employee engaged and working to be successful. You don’t want the employee to feel isolated, like they are on an island by themselves. You want to help the employee see their situation as an opportunity to grow their own capability.
Assumption #4: The Meeting Should Be a Discussion, and Happen As Soon As Possible
The final assumption is that this should be a discussion of the situation as soon as possible after the event or after it’s obvious that there is a problem. It’s important that it’s not just a one-way communication from the manager to the employee that the employee screwed up and needs to fix themselves. By starting the communication as a conversation, information will surface that will help not just the employee, but also the manager understand how things got to that point, and find alternatives moving forward. Even if it’s obvious that the employee erred in some way, the employee should be able to describe the situation and explain their behavior. There is something called ‘due process’ that, not only provides legal protection to the manager, but also satisfies an innate need that employees have to tell their side of the story.
How to Structure the ‘Redirection’
You may be wondering how you can structure a conversation with an employee about a problem or poor results. You can leverage the model I suggested in my last post regarding how to give positive feedback. That model was the BIF model, which stands for Behavior, Impact, and Feeling. You just add an important R at the end, which stands for Reaffirmation.
- Behavior – What is the behavior that led to substandard results? Ask the employee about the behavior. You need to provide the employee with a chance to explain what happened from their perspective. This is where you may surface an issue in the ‘system’ that is contributing to the employee’s behavior. This should be done in a conversation, and avoid using accusatory language.
- Impact – Describe the impact of their behavior on the business. They need to understand that this is a business issue and not a personal attack.
- Feeling – Describe how their behavior made you feel, including whether you were disappointed, surprised, concerned, and so forth. Rely on your actual reaction when you found out about their behavior or poor results.
- Reaffirmation – To ensure that your employee knows that you and the company value him or her; tell the employee that you believe or know that they can be successful. Ask them what help they need from you to do this. Reaffirm their value to you and the team and business. Make sure they schedule time with you to follow up on their next steps.
If you are timely with your feedback and follow these steps, you will be successful with almost all of your employees. As you practice them, you, yourself will become more comfortable and competent at giving feedback – even if it’s negative.
In spite of your best efforts, you may have an employee who is still not successful. Next week, I will discuss how to proceed with these more challenging situations.
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