Looking for a new year’s resolution? How about giving more feedback? Studies show that about two-thirds of managers avoid feedback, even though it’s the best way to help your people on your team grow and improve.
The problem is that feedback sessions tend to lead to negative feedback. After you discuss what they are doing right, there’s the moment where you have to reckon with areas where they can use improvement. This can be uncomfortable and even unpleasant. People can get defensive or just clam up if you start criticizing. No one wants that, so it becomes easier to avoid giving feedback altogether.
What if you could give feedback without being negative at all? What if you could help someone address even their most problematic behaviors while also encouraging them to focus on their positive contributions to the team?
You can! Good leaders do it all the time. Here are a few steps to help you stay positive when someone shows problematic behavior:
1. The first step is awareness.
The person needs to become aware that what they are doing is a problem. If you start talking about problems, though, they are likely get defensive or shut down. Instead of telling them they have a problem, find a private space to have a conversation. Offering coffee or food can help ease tension. Then let them know you’ve been thinking about a certain incident or project and want to know their perspective on it. Ask questions. Be curious. Ask them to retell the events or discuss their approach, to examine how they were feeling and what they were thinking, how satisfied they were with the outcome. Finally, ask them how others might have felt. Let them talk until they begin to see the problem themselves.
2. Normalize and model self-improvement
Once they see there’s a problem, it’s important to calm fears and let them know that self-improvement is normal. If you can share a story about something you learned, that will help engender trust. If you can tell them about something you are still trying to develop and strengthen, that is also reassuring. Let them see that they can change, and that change is a sign of growth - and more importantly, a positive one.
3. Support growth
Before the end of the conversation, ask how you can help them do things differently. Ask them to imagine the incident or project again and see if they can find a way to change what they did for a better outcome. Help them find a way to express how they felt without offending others. Encourage them to consider other options, to watch others, and to learn how to improve.
4. Follow up
Words of encouragement can have a big impact, especially when you see change or efforts to try something new. Let them know you see them trying and support them. Offer another conversation for self-reflection. Celebrate when you see improvement, even if that celebration is just a smile or a private time to tell them, “good job!”
It’s not always comfortable, but conversations to provide feedback don’t have to be negative. When you reduce errors, friction, division, and turn-over, you can increase productivity by turning attention to more positive tasks. Taking the time and trouble to help your team run smoothly empowers your team to focus on results, which in turn makes you look good.
That doesn’t mean there won’t be disagreements - in fact, disagreements are important for innovation, collaboration, and growth. But disagreements don’t have to disagreeable. Everyone should be expected to listen respectfully to others and express themselves without offending others.
So look forward to a new year with more feedback, more open dialogue, less friction, and better results. That’s a resolution worth keeping!
Lisa Foster is an Executive Coach specializing in leadership development, emotional intelligence, and communications. For 15 years, she taught verbal analysis, argumentation, and persuasion at USC and Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles. Trained to identify skill gaps and build on people’s strengths to create more success, she coaches clients looking for more influence, control, and advancement in their careers within large and small organizations. She also develops plans for individual talent development and corporation talent management using evidence-based tools that have proven to increase success.