Years ago I wrote an article for Forbes called Speak The Truth Even If Your Voice Shakes which talked about the importance of giving people honest feedback in a respectful way, even at times it feels uncomfortable or intimidating to do so. In the article I shared seven lessons I’d learned about giving feedback and how best to go about it:
1. Leaders have an obligation to set the example of giving honest and direct feedback to employees. If you don’t do it, no one else well either, so it must start with you.
2. Never feel guilty telling someone else the truth about what isn’t working or what has to change. They deserve to know it. They cannot change and improve unless they know the truth about what they are doing wrong. You owe it to them to be honest and open.
3. Always give feedback from a position of truly wanting to help the other person with the information. Never give feedback at a time you are angry or frustrated or you will end up tearing the other person down and no good will come from it. If you enter into the conversation with the genuine desire to help the other person to improve and grow, your heart will be in the right place and your words will come out in a way that builds, not destroys.
4. It is OK to start the conversation by telling the other person that what you need to discuss with them is a little uncomfortable for you, but you also know that it’s in their best interest for you to give them honest feedback, so you are going to do your best to do so. This lets the other person know that your intentions are good, and it helps stop them from becoming immediately defensive and allows them to be more open to what you have to tell them.
5. Be very clear in explaining exactly what they need to do differently. Don’t just talk in broad, general terms. Give them specific examples of what they have done wrong and then give them an example of how they could have handled things differently. Keep in mind that most people are not trying to mess up or be difficult. They are usually either unaware of their own bad behavior, or they are frustrated because they can’t figure out how to do it differently. Typically, they will appreciate having some practical examples that teach them new ways to approach things.
6. Always be honest with respect. If you talk to the other person in a way that demonstrates your respect for them, they will appreciate your words far more, and you will have a far better chance of making an impact with them.
7. Make sure that anytime you are going to share something negative that you also take time to express the positive. Let them know what they do right as well as what they are doing wrong. You want people to walk away knowing that not everything they do is bad, and you want them to recognize the good things they should continue to do.
Those seven points are always good to remind ourselves of because its easy to brush things under a rug or avoid them in hopes they get better on their own. But I have yet to see a situation where things improve without people having had the courage to speak the truth, so don’t let a shaky voice stop you…you’ve got this!
~Amy Rees Anderson (author of the book “What Awesome Looks Like: How To Excel in Business & Life” )