Vanessa Judelman: Five key steps to giving tough feedback

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It’s easy to sit down with a colleague and provide them with positive and glowing feedback. It’s quite another feat to tell someone they are under-performing or not quite good enough. Over and over again, managers tell me how often they avoid having these difficult performance discussions.

Why is giving constructive feedback so hard to do? The answer is simple. It goes against the laws of human nature. Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs clearly states that love and belonging are critical for humans to feel healthy and survive. We have a basic need to fit in, be liked and feel accepted. We often avoid giving feedback as we fear rejection. We worry that we won’t be liked or accepted if we are the bearer of bad news.

Yet on a rational level, we know that ignoring disruptive behaviour is bad for our health and bad for business. If you are anything like me, your stress level increases the longer you maintain avoidance tactics. What tends to surface is passive aggressive behaviour, tense relationships and even low morale.

So, there is a strong business case for dealing with performance issues. Instead of ignoring these situations, leaders need just one thing – courage! It takes a lot of courage to move beyond the pull of human nature and tell the truth – even if it could be hurtful to another person.

Once you muster up the courage, the key is to deliver the feedback in a productive way. Here are five steps to help you accomplish this goal:

  1. Determine the right time and place to provide the feedback
  2. Focus on the behaviour not the person
  3. Use simple, specific and non-judgmental language
  4. Brainstorm possible solutions together
  5. Document the meeting outcomes and next steps

As leaders, we will all have the challenging task of giving difficult feedback at some point in our career. Remember, you are not the only one with a tendency to avoid these conversations. So, pluck up the courage, make a plan and just do it! Once accomplished, you’ll feel relieved, you’ll sleep better at night and you can once again bring a positive focus to your team.

Vanessa Judelman, President, Mosaic People Development

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