The Work of Leaders consists of creating vision, aligning others, and executing that vision.
Getting your team aligned requires feedback.
Execution requires feedback.
Each member of your team needs to know what to do more of, what to keep on doing, and what to stop doing. Leaders provide feedback to ensure work gets done on time and on target. Yet attempts to provide feedback frequently end in defensiveness, misunderstanding, anger, and sometimes outright hostility.
For many the art of providing effective feedback is a great mystery.
There is no getting around this task. Effective leaders must provide feedback. Failure to do so is a guarantee of failure. When a worker is out of alignment with the goals of the team, department, or the organization, that organization is already in the process of failing.
Here are four steps that will improve the quality of your feedback and therefore improve the outcome. Use these to get buy-in and a productive response.
- Effective Feedback has a clear purpose in mind.
What do you want to accomplish? Humiliate the employee? Establish who’s the boss and who’s not? Or, correct the behavior?
First of all, have a clear goal in your own mind. Be clear about what YOU want.
Too often, leaders are vague and imprecise about what they expect from their direct reports. This is fuzzy communication and it comes from being unclear in one’s own mind about what is actually expected. A result of this can be micromanagement, nit-picky management, or worse: focusing on minor issues instead of getting to the real problems which need to be addressed.
Other times a manager is so uncomfortable with conflict that he or she beats around the bush in order to cloak the feedback in diplomacy. The feedback is so buried in apologetic language and sugar-coating that it never registers as feedback. In such a case, the recipient is often left wondering, “What was the point of that conversation?”
Take Action: Be clear about what you expect
Part of your leadership role is to think. Take some time to think through what you expect from each of your team members. Write it out in straightforward, simple statements. Use the old acronym, SMART Goals (specific, measurable attainable, realistic, time-bound) to clarify in your mind what you expect and by when. Remember, a goal without a completion date is a wish list.
The emotionally literate leader schedules time to clearly define and articulate his or her expectations and mentally rehearses how to communicate those expectations in the context of a constructive conversation.
- Effective Feedback requires a clear understanding of communication.
Clear feedback requires a clear understanding of the mechanics of communication.
We think in pictures, not words. The point of communication is to move the picture in my head into the other person’s brain, and getting it there intact.
This is especially true for feedback.
We think we’re being perfectly clear. We the have picture in our head of the outcome we want. But words mean different things to different people. What our body is saying might not be congruent with our words. The other person might have just come from a stressful situation, or have other blocks to hearing and understanding. These issues influence the accuracy of the communication process.
Ensure that the message sent is also the message received by asking one question: “I want to make sure I’m being clear here so would you tell me what you thought you heard me say.” You’ll be surprised how far apart your statement and their perception can be from each other. And, your responsibility as a communicator is to ensure that the message you sent is the very same message they received.
The emotionally literate leader understands that message sent is not the same as message received. He or she doesn’t just assume the message is understood. Rather, they seek clarity by asking the recipient what they thought they heard in order to promote clear understanding.
- Effective Feedback requires a clear understanding of fight or flight.
Effective feedback takes into consideration fight or flight and seeks to provide corrective input without triggering the defense mechanism.
The whole point of effective communication is to get my point across. However, if I use pejorative words, or my body language is threatening, vocal pitch or intensity is raised, the recipient of that feedback can go into what commonly known as Fight or Flight. It’s actually Fight, Flight or Freeze, a reaction in the brain that is designed to get us out of a life-threatening situation by taking us out of the slower, logical cerebral cortex, and moving down to the middle and lower “lizard” part of the brain. The intent is to get us to move quickly and get out of harm’s way. This condition serves us well in life or death situations, but it’s not something we want to trigger when we’re providing feedback.
When an individual is in fight or flight they have left the logical part of the brain and are immediately moved to the wounded or cornered animal part of their brain where they have the problem-solving capability of a four-year-old.
It is the speaker’s responsibility to carefully choose words, vocal tone and body language that convey accurate feedback without triggering fight or flight.
The emotionally literate leader will write out his or her feedback prior to meeting with the other person. So take time to create an opening conversation starter and then think though everything you plan to say. Ask yourself, “How will this be perceived by the other person?” Take into consideration personality styles. Are they direct, will they want you to get to the point? Are they indirect, will they be more comfortable if you take some time to ease into the conversation?
- Effective Feedback requires asking for what you want.
Are you prepared to ask for exactly what you want from the employee to achieve that expected outcome?
Clear feedback includes asking for the desired behavior that will help the employee fulfill your expectations. The ultimate goal of effective feedback is to correct behavior and performance and to help the employee become realigned with the goals of the organization.
Once we have pointed out the problem or corrected the behavior, we’re just halfway through the process. The second part of effective feedback is asking for exactly what you want. Most people really do want to please, they’re just unsure how to go about accomplishing this task. Make it easy for them by telling them exactly what you want. Then ask them to tell you in their own words what they think they’re hearing.
The emotionally literate leader is prepared to provide effective feedback as the need arises by being aware of, and clearly communicating his or her expectations without triggering fight or flight in the recipient of the feedback.
The emotionally intelligent leader is prepared to be direct about the the desired outcome. He or she is prepared to ask for a specific action, by a specific date.
Effective Feedback is planned and thought out ahead of time. The emotionally intelligent leader recognizes the quality of feedback outcome is a direct result of how clear he or she understands their own expectations, and clear communication while remembering the importance of fight or flight.
Master these four concepts and you’ll excel at providing effective feedback.
Watch The Work of Leaders Video
Tim Hast is a partner at Encore Life Skills in Edmond Oklahoma. Tim provides executive coaching, training and development services and is an Authorized Partner with Everything DiSC and an Authorized Partner with Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team by Wiley.
Tim, I often read your blog and I appreciate your content, even though I usually just continue about my day and don’t leave a comment.
I just wanted to say that I enjoy reading your blog and attending your classes because I always learn something new.
Keep doing what you do so well!
I look forward to your next blog, and hope I have the opportunity to attend one of your classes in the near future! 🙂
Uriah, Thanks for the encouraging words. Please let me know what you’d like to read more of