Coaching sessions often throw out interesting patterns with different coachees facing the same challenges or expressing their experiences in a strikingly similar way. Most recently, I’ve been hearing a number of my coaching clients reflecting on some feedback they’ve received at work. What was interesting was that each person was fixated on what they considered to be the ‘negative’ part of the feedback.
Why did each person assume that the feedback was negative? The feedback was most probably given with all good intentions to help the person improve or develop. So what went wrong?
If poorly managed, the feedback process can so easily fall apart in the very early stages. The message is then seen as a ‘telling off’ and the person feels criticised, undervalued and in no mood to change their behaviours and approach. Those good intentions have been wasted.
Feedback is a gift. That may sound a bit corny but if you look to approach giving and receiving of feedback with this mindset, it makes the process a whole lot easier. What’s more, it makes growth and positive change much more likely.
As a coach, a key part of my role centres on giving feedback based on what I hear, observe or even feel during coaching sessions. I know all too well how critical it is to deliver this feedback in a way that supports continued growth of my clients and maintains a supportive coaching relationship. Here are some of the approaches I take when giving feedback.
1. Stay on target
Some people like to start the conversation with positive praise.
“You’re doing a really great job with this this project but…. you need to work on your communication skills with the team”.
I’m not a great fan of this approach. Sugar coating the feedback might make YOU feel better but there’s a good chance that your REAL message will get lost in translation. And anyway, most people will ignore the sugar coating and focus on the ‘but….’.
So plan upfront exactly what you want to say and keep your message clear and concise. People are much more likely to take action when they’re completely clear on what needs to change.
2. Stick to the facts
Make sure your feedback is actionable by using specific examples which nicely demonstrate your point. Saying something like “You need to communicate better with your team” offers little direction and creates more questions than answers.
Instead, share precisely what you saw, heard and felt rather than relying on third party hearsay. Keep the discussion focussed on facts rather than talking in more general terms. Reflection of real life examples sets the conversation up on the right track of support rather than criticism.
3. It’s all about timing
It may be tempting to put off giving that feedback until ‘another time’ or ‘when the moment’s right’. But delaying the feedback is allowing the problem to get worse and over time the facts start to get really blurry. Effective action comes from well-timed feedback, ideally in the moment. If you need some planning time, then certainly allow for this but delay too much and the feedback will become inaccurate and outdated.
Remember that feedback is an ongoing, continuous improvement process and not an isolated incident. If you lead or manage individuals or teams, consider having weekly update meetings and include feedback as a regular discussion item. And be prepared to receive the feedback too. It works both ways!
4. Imagine what’s possible
Rather than focussing solely on what’s wrong, it can feel hugely motivating to feedback on how things could be. Coaching naturally tends to emphasis goal setting and the coachee views feedback as part and parcel of achieving these goals.
A goal focussed feedback approach can move people much faster towards their career and development goals. So reframe your feedback to open up opportunities rather than inciting resistance to change.
5. Don’t forget to praise!
Feedback to support a change in behaviour is essential but it’s equally important to reinforce the great stuff too. Sending a clear message on what someone did really well lays a solid groundwork for consistency and role modelling of desired behaviours. But remember that there’s a time and a place to feedback on great work, so take care not to overdo it. Select your moments as those that really shine through otherwise too much of a good thing may just neutralise the impact.
Giving feedback in the right way and focussing on the value it brings to each individual can make it easier to deliver with far superior end results. Keep doing it and it soon becomes a habit, which is an accepted part of the organisational culture.