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The Right Way to Give Feedback

Ever get the sense that the advice you give your employees falls on deaf ears? Here are a few tips to help you get your message across effectively.
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You've learned a few things in the years you've spent building a business, so it only seems natural to want to share that experience with the people you work with. But if this feedback is so well intentioned, why is it so regularly resisted? Of course, much depends on the recipient's willingness to listen. But there are also behaviors you can change when you deliver your sage advice to encourage openness on the part of the receiver. Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind when you are giving feedback that will increase both your effectiveness and the recipient's willingness to listen:

  • Preaching vs. Coaching- Preaching is non-interactive. Whether the "pulpit" is your desk, conference room, or company car, if you deliver a long, rambling monologue your audience will tune you out. Unless you are speaking to group of high school sophomores—where it is easy to see the sullen physical indifference—most people have learned how to look engaged without really caring.  If you want to have impact, there must be dialogue. Here are a few things to watch for to help you determine if your audience is actually listening:
    • Friction—If there isn't some disagreement or seeking of clarification, I doubt I have real engagement. Friction is good. Battle is bad.
    • Questions—"How do I do that?" "How should I handle this situation?" and other questions show engagement. When the person is asking, they are caring.
    • Causal-links—When the person connects their actions to if-then predictions, I have engagement. For example when the person says, "If the next time that happens, I do this...."
  •  No "Should-ing" without Permission—This is a big sin of mine. Mikki Williams, a great Vistage chair and speaker's coach, gave me this invaluable lesson. "Should-ing" is when you tell people, without their permission, what they should do. Title, position, even clear expertise does not give you the right to give your advice without the permission of the recipient. The simple act of asking, "I'd like to give you a suggestion on how you might handle this differently next time. May I give you that suggestion?" goes a long way. It is very hard to be helpful to someone against that person's will. Asking them if they would be interested in your recommendation is more effective than forcing it upon them.
  •  Start with outcomes—When coaching someone, a good place to start is asking them what is the outcome they are hoping to achieve. Asking that question in an honest tone, rather than a "What-the-&^%$!!-were-you-thinking!?!" tone, moves the conversation in a coaching direction rather than an accusing direction. The honest answer may be, "I don't know." That probably isn't the answer you want to hear, but at least it's a place to start the important conversation of achieving the right outcome.

Your goal when giving feedback is to help improve the people with whom you are working. To achieve that, you have to get engagement in the dialogue. These guidelines should help increase the likelihood of that engagement.

IMAGE: Corbis
Last updated: Oct 9, 2012

TOM SEARCY | Columnist | Founder, Hunt Big Sales

Author, speaker, and consultant Tom Searcy is the foremost expert in large account sales. With Hunt Big Sales, he has helped clients land more than $5 billion in new sales. Click to get Searcy's weekly tips, or to learn more about Hunt Big Sales.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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