We’ve all had that internal debate about whether we should tell someone that they have spinach in their teeth or not. We know they’d want to know, yet we hesitate to tell them.


Leaders often feel the same type of apprehension when needing to share feedback. Even though we know the feedback may help, we hesitate to give it.


Why is it so hard?


We often hold back because we don’t know what to do with the emotions we might experience in return. Telling someone they have spinach in their teeth might embarrass them. Likewise, giving someone difficult feedback might make them uncomfortable, hurt their feelings or make them feel bad about themselves. Or it might make them not like us. And if we don’t do it well, they might think we are incompetent as a leader. In a 2013 survey taken by the Society for HR Management, 63% of executives say the biggest challenge is that leaders lack the courage and ability to have difficult feedback discussions.[1]



So why bother?


Giving feedback as a gift, instead of a gut punch, can increase people’s self-awareness, which is an important component of emotional intelligence. Self-awareness is the ability to identify your own strengths and weaknesses and how they impact others. Emotionally intelligent people with a keen sense of self-awareness have a greater chance at success. In fact, Daniel Goleman, the guru of emotional intelligence, states that emotional intelligence counts for 80% of career success. What an important gift you can give by telling people the things they need to hear, even when it’s something that is sensitive or unpleasant or they just don’t want to hear it.


There are things you can do to minimize these uncomfortable emotions when giving feedback. Understanding these important steps can help people overcome obstacles that may be holding them back in their career.


Here are the six steps necessary to be able to give feedback that feels like a gift:


Talk about the Issue.  Stay focused on the issue that needs to be addressed. If the person starts to deflect, bring them back to the actual issue. This is the #1 way to avoid defensiveness.


Use SOB’s.  Specific observable behaviors, or examples of what happened, help people to identify the problem areas and what they can do differently in the future. Use SOB’s to provide teachable moments. Feedback that is too vague is difficult to learn from.


Don’t Judge or Diagnose.  We tend to use sweeping words that feel like a personal attack or judgment (that person’s lazy, irresponsible, undependable, not a team-player, etc.) or we diagnose a person’s problems (they must have OCD, be depressed, etc.) that don’t address the issue and may create inaccurate assessments and biases of people’s challenges. Unless you are a mental health professional treating a patient, these diagnoses don’t belong in the conversation. Calling someone undependable will likely take you to a debate about all the ways they are dependable. Again, talk about the specific issue (e.g. being late for meetings) and give examples.


Coach Instead of Fix.  Becoming a performance coach means you guide people to fix the problem themselves instead of giving them orders on exactly how to fix it. The more you can create an awareness of the issue and then help them to come up with solutions themselves, the more they are vested in the process and results.


Let Them Know You Care.  As leaders, use every opportunity you can to let people know you care, and when you do, they are more open to hearing the tough feedback, because they know you have their best interests at heart.


Follow Up.  After sharing difficult feedback, and you’ve charged them with seeking solutions, be sure to hardwire a process for follow-up to discuss their progress. Behaviors don’t change overnight. It also lets them know you care about how they are doing.


By overcoming hesitation to share important feedback, you can provide the gift of self-awareness and thus increase a person’s emotional intelligence. These insights can make a difference for years to come, for the individual, the team, the organization and for you–to be the kind of leader that brings out the best in others. There’s no better way to drive success than through helping those you lead be their best selves. What a wonderful gift to give.


©2018 Anita Jackson


[1] Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement research report, 2013, Society for Human Resources Management


Comments are closed.