Feedback is a gift, or is it really? Learn how to be an inclusive leader that says what they mean without being mean.
The word feedback creates fear. It creates a feeling in the pit of our stomachs, followed by an overly emotional anxiety. Merely hearing the word makes it hard to hear the words that follow.
Imagine this scenario, someone pulls you aside, and asks, “Can I give you some feedback?” Fear takes over, you assume it to be negative, and you instantly imagine the worst case scenario. That is because the word feedback has been framed so poorly in the past. It has created negative perceptions based on the experiences that our brain remembers. Our brain recalls the pattern of negative feedback, and prepares our body with fight or flight mode to take cover or run away. Our emotions take over. That doesn’t bode well for solid decision making and behavior.
The words we use matter. So, let’s try a different word – guidance. I have been searching for a better word than feedback for years – words like feed-forward, insight, coaching – have been floated out there in the coaching community, yet none have felt genuine or appropriate. Then, a mentor of mine shared an article with me about a concept called “radical candor.” What struck me most about the concept was the use of the word guidance over feedback.
Consider this, rather than saying “Can I give you some feedback,” why not open with, “I’ve got some guidance for you…” It’s softer, it frames the moment appropriately, and emphasizes positive intent. The word guidance ensures that the audience is still listening, and not emotionally hijacked and paralyzed with fear. Furthermore, effective guidance requires leaders to:
- Deliver it real-time
- Assume positive intent
- Be clear about the behaviors rather than the person
As leaders, guidance requires us to find a time to talk real-time, meaning as close as possible the event. Yes, this can be a challenge. Sometimes, the situation goes down, we’re off to another meeting or tending to an interruption and we lose sight of it. As leaders, it can be stressful to follow up later and bring up a potentially uncomfortable topic. So, we avoid it instead, hoping it will not ever happen again. Then, it does. And, we could have avoided that by addressing it in the moment or closely after.
See, as a leader, we have an advantage on our vantage point. We can see what people cannot see for themselves. Think about that. We’re usually privy to many situations with the team member and/or their team. We see them from outside of their internal viewpoint. The person literally cannot see what we see. They do not see their body language, hear their tone, or understand the impact of their words. One of my favorite leaders shared this quote with me, and it forever sticks, “people don’t know what they don’t know.” It’s so true. People often have no idea how they are perceived until we let them know. That is why leadership is a true privilege. We get to help them see what they cannot see without us. When you think about it that way, it makes the real-time element key and easier to do. Most leaders I coach agree that the 24-hour rule for a discussion is acceptable.
Positive Intent Guidance
Once you find a safe place and time to talk, framing is key. The key to this is starting in a genuine, positive tone. Some of my favorite openings are “I wanted to share something with you because I care about you,” or from a place of real vulnerability, “this is uncomfortable for me, yet I want to share something with you,” or simply stating, “This comes from a good place.” People need to know that you genuinely care and are not sharing this guidance as a means to sabotage them. Knowing it is with positive intent helps them understand that you are doing this to help them be better. In fact, it is selfish as a leader to not share guidance. To preserve your own self-image and avoid conflict is self-serving. You are just protecting yourself from the fear of retaliation, or the fear of letting someone down. If you take the time to frame it positively from the start, chances are the person will appreciate it.
Another favorite mantra of an organization I work with is, “say what you mean, without being mean.” This is pivotal. Sharing guidance in a factual, supportive approach disarms the person and they are far more likely to be receptive to it. This organization has it as visibility displayed in their office, and they call it out as a norm of the behavior they expect from the team. When someone steps out of line and behaves in a “mean” way, pointing to this mantra makes it all the much easier to address it in the moment and say, “that doesn’t sound like positive intent.”
Situation-Behavior-Impact Model to Guidance
Hands down my favorite way to structure the guidance chat – situation-behavior-impact. After finding time to do it real-time, initiating with positive intent, outlining the situation, behaviors, and impact are game changers. This method is based on of Mind Tool’s SBI model. Here’s how it works:
- Situation: Explain to the team member the specific details of the situation. Especially if it has been some time. They need to know be reminded of the key details – who, what, where, when, etc. Paint the scene, and be descriptive with your point of view and others’.
- Behavior: Emphasize the behaviors, not the person. Saying, “I saw you do this…” or “I heard you say this…” rather than, “you made someone feel this way,” or “your behavior was unacceptable.” Focus on the facts, not the person. They need to know to know the exact facts, rather than feeling like a horrible human being.
- Impact: Often, team members are most impacted by the impact their behavior has on the team. If he or she is self-aware, simply asking, “In this situation…considering these behaviors…what was the impact on the team?” goes a long way. The person cannot help but feel some compassion for others and a sinking suspicion they had something to do with it. If self-awareness is not there, consider explaining the impact for the person. They may need you to give them the full picture for them. Lots of impacts are possible – business impacts, team impacts, career impacts, etc.
Guidance over feedback wins. It creates a positive experience for employees that is far more likely to retain them, contributing to better business results.
How will you guide your team?