Feedback - A time and place for everything! (4 of 5)
It may very well be that tensions between you and Samantha have built up over months. Neither one of you has had a conversation about the elephant(s) in the room: her frequent absences, the missed deadlines, her lack of engagement in the team’s project. And unfortunately, the list goes on. It’s time to say something. What’s next?
Turn off the fire hose! A feedback session can sometimes escalate into a verbal attack. So first thing’s first, check in with yourself: even one ounce of upset can lead to a serious escalation. You can tone it down by only choosing one topic, and nothing more. I find that feedback is best given in small doses: just like getting a serious medical diagnosis, it only takes one or two words before the person receiving the news simply stops listening. Besides, issues that may at first glance seem distinct, often have a common denominator.
Do you have your facts straight? Do you know how many absences, over what period of time? What are concrete examples of the impact the absences have had on your team, on your ability to report to your superiors? Do you have specific examples of how her incomplete work is impacting the team’s or your results? Whatever issue you decide to address first, having concrete information will also help you keep the feedback conversation focused and respectful.
Location, location, location. One of my coaching clients recently told me after a session at his office: “Jim got a free coaching session today.” I was puzzled. Who’s Jim? “The walls are thin here", he said. We couldn’t help laughing. After all, this manager was now creating outstanding results and everyone wanted to know his secret! Feedback can be touchy though. Respecting the receiver’s privacy goes a long way in building trust. There is a time a place for everything: Drive-by-feedback at the coffee machine is a no-no!
Location also means emotional space: Am I giving feedback at exactly the time Samantha is walking into the office, still with her rain-soaked coat on? Perhaps a few minutes to let her get settled, then a “Hi Samantha, let’s grab a cup of coffee at 10 am and talk a little." “About what?” May be her response. “It’s about the new report. I’d like to talk a little more about it and see what we can come up with.”
It isn’t all bad is it? Humans being humans, it’s often easier to find fault than to find praise. What is the good that Samantha is contributing to the team? It’s a rare situation where everything is negative. Coming up with some examples of the good stuff helps you place the feedback in a larger perspective. Also sharing the good with her at different points in follow up conversation, keeps the feedback ongoing and balanced, an excellent way to build trust. “Samantha, I appreciate your comments at the last team meeting, you added an important perspective we hadn't thought of. I look forward to your findings.”
In sum, 4 S’s for giving feedback:
And last, but certainly not least, keep these 4 S’s and the conversation going throughout the year, not just when things are boiling over. Peaks and valleys can then be easily transformed into small hills.
- Small: Best in small doses; you’re more likely to be heard.
- Specific: Getting the facts together is key to keeping the conversation focused.
- Staging: Choosing your moment and physical location respects privacy and builds trust.
- Symmetry: Finding the good, not just the questionable. Over time it makes for a balanced ongoing feedback interaction.