3 Foolish Ways & 3 Clever Ways to Start a Feedback Conversation
It's one of the most powerful conversations you can have with a team mate to improve performance, and yet you can often start it off poorly. Do you know what it is? Hi there, leaders! My name is General Robert Van Antwerp, a retired three-star general from the Army. Today I want to share with you a talk by our National Director of Coaching and Development, Chris White. Chris is a New York Times bestselling author of The Flip Side, and in this talk he explains the three foolish ways, and the three clever ways to start a feedback conversation. Enjoy this talk and I'll be back in a few minutes.
Let's start with the 3 foolish ways.
1. Ever had someone say this to you? "Are you open to some feedback?"
Wait, wait wait! You thought that would disarm me? You thought that starting with a rhetorical question that puts most humans on the defense would be effective? Wow!
Well, foolish way #2 is this one, Start with, "I need to talk to you about something serious!"
Oh do you?!? Well, can I finish watching the game? Or can I finish brushing my teeth? I mean, what?!? You're picking a terrible time for this, and by the way that's not going to be on the list of clever ways to give feedback. When someone has their mouth full whether it's brushing their teeth, eating a big bite, or even at the dentist. Wouldn't that be great? I have some feedback for you. What do you think? I agree, I guess you said? I can't tell. I know you may just be wanting, with this one, to get them to focus on the conversation. That it's a little more serious, but think about what goes through most people's heads when you say, I need to talk to you today about something serious! They're wondering if you hate their guts! If you're moving away! If they're fired! Or if you just had a terrible health diagnosis! Letting their mind wander around the various worst-case scenarios probably isn't paving the way for them to hear your feedback.
Here's foolish way #3. How about this ill-advised intro to feedback? "I don't really know how to say this..."
Oh you don't? Well then don't say it! Or at least don't be surprised that that intro only ticked me off. Well enough of the foolish ways.
Let's make sure we talk about some of the clever ways.
Clever way #1 is this, start with "I'd love to debrief our recent meeting/discussion. Could I have done anything better?"
Wait, Chris, I think you got it backwards. We're supposed to be sharing clever ways to give feedback, and your clever way #1, you just asked for feedback. Exactly! I did this once with a colleague who I felt like had several things they could improve on in a client meeting, but instead of hammering him and starting with some criticism for him and also because I suspected I could have improved myself, I started by asking him for feedback, and guess what happened? At the end, he reciprocated and said, "Well, any feedback for me?"
Clever way #1 has another aspect that you don't want to miss. Did you notice that I used the word debrief instead of feedback? The word feedback is like a bad word to most people. Even if you're just asking for feedback it can be intimidating to most mortals. Do you have any feedback for me???
Clever way #2 is this, You could start with, "How would you want me to handle it if you..."
So let's say your boss, or colleague, or family member tells a joke or told the story that you felt like was a little inappropriate or just maybe made you uncomfortable. Should you (A) interrupt the punch line with a big time-out signal and then publicly humiliate them Or maybe (B) ask them one-on-one afterwards, "How would you want me to handle it if you made a comment that kinda made me uncomfortable?" You might say, "Chris, this borders on that rhetorical thing you talked about earlier. That sounds too risky." And honestly it could. But what's nice here is that it gives people a chance to say, "I want you to tell me straight up. I'd want you to tell me directly." or maybe they'll say, "You know what, I wouldn't want to talk about it further," but at least they get a chance to chime in.
Clever way #3 is to start a feedback conversation with, "One thing that would help me is..."
To someone who always criticizes your ideas you could say, "You know one thing that would help me is if you started with a quick positive comment." or "Hey, one thing that would help me is if you looked at me more when we were meeting instead of being distracted by your phone or laptop. That's quite often a lot easier than just saying, "I wanna give you some feedback!" or "Stop being so negative!"
Let me ask you this, what is it worth for you to be able to give feedback better? Really think about it. What is that worth? If you could be a better mentor and stretch and address crippling issues in those around you even better. Wow! That's worth everything.
Well, I hope you enjoyed Chris' talk on the 3 foolish ways and the 3 clever ways to start a feedback conversation. If you found this talk helpful please do us a favor: click the Like button to share it with your friends and also scroll down to the bottom of this post and let us know your thoughts on how to start or not start a feedback conversation. So let's continue the discussion below.
We'd love to hear from you. Take care and I'll see you soon!