Do you get that queasy feeling when you think about delivering difficult messages to clients, peers, or members of your team? Do you avoid conflict at all costs? Do you sugar coat your feedback to soften the blow for others? Do you cringe in anticipation when others tell you that they would “like to give you some feedback?”
Do yourself a favor. Make giving and receiving feedback easier by seeking and sharing powerful, observable data about what actually transpired in a given situation.
I spent several days observing a group of managers go through an intense, time-pressured business simulation designed to challenge and stretch them developmentally. My role was to observe how these managers perform under stress, and note both what they do effectively and what needed improvement. On the last day of this training event, I facilitated feedback sessions with each person I observed to help them understand their performance in the simulation.
As I prepared for the feedback sessions, I reminded myself that the foundation for all successful productive conversations is good data. Want to better manage your own and others’ emotional reactions? First focus on the facts of what occurred in a situation before working towards problem resolution, coaching, or development planning.
Everyone can prepare to have a productive conversations by keeping these principles in mind:
- Focus attention on the behavior others displayed in a situation
- Record what others said and did in a situation
- Capture direct quotes that demonstrate key productive and destructive behaviors
- Count the frequency by which someone said or did something repeatedly
- Watch for non-verbal behavior such as gestures, eye contact, body language, stance, and movement
- Listen for voice inflection and tone
- Note the absence of behavior – what others did not say or did not do
When you don’t have all the facts about a situation, or when you are unsure about what occurred, beware! It is best to invite your conversational partner to share his or her perspective about what happened in a situation upfront, early, and often. Work towards agreement. Establish what actually transpired.
When we establish common ground on the facts of the situation, then we can move into what the impact, implications, or interpretations of that behavior were on others. Some people fear receiving feedback because they don’t want others to attack their personhood. By focusing on behavior, and keeping our feedback objective, we help others see the implications of the choices they made. We diffuse others’ urges to defend their identity and personality.
If we understand our behavior, then we can more clearly see the intended and unintended consequences of those actions. Our willingness and ability to grow and develop is predicated on self-awareness, acceptance, and understanding of how we impact others.
Powerful data is a gift. It fuels our choices about what we do next.