Have You Fallen Into A Feedback Trap?

Imagine this – it’s 2 p.m. in the afternoon and you’ve just wrapped up a difficult meeting with a new client. The meeting was difficult because your new project leader, James, came to the meeting completely unprepared and was dismissive about some of the client’s concerns. Tensions escalated and James appears to be incompetent when it comes to managing client relationships.

It’s now up to you, James’ manager, to deliver some tough messages (a.k.a. corrective feedback), and there’s no time like the present!

Are you feeling that pit in your stomach? UGH!

Mantrap RoomThis is one of the least favorite aspects of being a leader. Because it’s not fun, no one wants to do it. However, not delivering the feedback not only hurts your credibility and reputation as a leader, it could really hurt the employee’s career and opportunity to grow and learn.

These are times when leaders are primed to fall into a feedback trap.

Here are six most common traps, along with example statements. See if you recognize any of them:

  1. Backing out of your feedback – this causes the receiver to lose the message and can make the leader appear to lack confidence. “You interrupted me, which made me feel angry, but the more I think about it, it was pretty hectic at the time.”
  2. Pulling in your own experience – this takes ownership of the feedback away from the receiver and can make it seem okay. Also, it comes across as the leader presumes to know what the receiver is experiencing or thinking. “I used to have the same problem and here’s what I did.”
  3. Cushioning your feedback – this puts the receiver on the defensive, decreasing their likelihood of hearing your message. “I hate to be the one to tell you this …”
  4. Labeling your feedback – this can create undue anxiety. “I have some negative feedback to give to you …”
  5. Using words that don’t precisely communicate your message, or being insensitive to the language you use – this can cause unnecessary emotional reactions. When you don’t offer specific examples of the behavior, the statement becomes an evaluation of the person, which is never a good idea. “You were a real windbag in that meeting this morning.” You also want to avoid using generalizations like “always” or “never.”
  6. Delaying in giving feedback – this may detract from your memory of the event and cause the receiver to wonder why the conversation didn’t occur sooner. “Last month when we were attending the regional meeting …”

So how can you avoid these traps?

Plan your setting for the discussion. Make sure you have a private setting free from distractions and interruptions.

Remain focused on the message you want to deliver and tune in to the employee’s body language. Acknowledge what you see and hear from the employee and listen closely.

Plan your message. Delivery of the right words and tone can make all the difference. So remember to:

  • Offer specific examples of behavior observed/words heard.
    • “You did not respond to people’s questions.” 
    • You called him a tyrant.”  
  • Use verbs, not adjectives – adjectives judge and verbs describe.
    • I heard you interrupt.” vs. “You were rude.”
    • “You rolled your eyes.” vs. “You were disrespectful.”
  • Describe the impact of the behavior in a non-judgmental way.
    • “I felt you were very upset when you slammed down your notebook.” vs. “I thought you should have controlled your temper instead of acting like a jerk.”

Again, while delivering corrective feedback is not the fun part of being a leader, it’s a key differentiator in the type of leader you become. When done correctly, the benefits far outweigh the temporary pain because you are actively involved in helping others grow and develop.

Martha Duesterhoft is a Partner with PeopleResults. Follow her on Twitter @mduesterhoft or connect by email at mduesterhoft@people-results.com.

Martha Duesterhoft