I’ve observed the most well-meaning leaders make some basic mistakes that effectively shut people down in feedback conversations and make alignment, collaboration and accountability almost impossible and definitely very painful.
Giving constructive feedback is often messy and awkward, especially when it is towards a direct report who is underperforming or seems disengaged. We also worry about how they will react — if they’ll get angry, very upset or defensive — and whether we will be able to handle ourselves should the conversation get emotionally charged or stuck.
Time for 5 hacks for leaders in feedback conversations.
I’d like to share with you the 5 most common mistakes and show you what you can do instead to invite people into the discussion and release positive, generous exchanges into the feedback conversation.
Don’t discount them, ask them to speak more
Discounting is when we flatly disagree with what the other person says by responding with “Yes but…”, “I disagree”, “That’s wrong”, “You can’t say that” or “We’ve already tried that and it didn’t work.” In no way, does that response equal an invitation — it simply raises cortisol (stress) levels.
Hack #1: Give them the mic and ask, “Can you say more about that?”
Watch for body language shifts or speech changes
While we can choose our words carefully, it’s much harder for our bodies to disguise our real thoughts. If someone disagrees with us, they will have a reflex impulse that causes them to change their posture towards closed positions — turning their body away, crossing their arms or legs, or pushing back in their seat — or to hesitate before speaking, sigh deeply, slow down or speed up their speech and so on.
Hack #2: When you notice a shift, pause and ask “What’s coming up for you?”