Getting others to accept feedback can prove challenging, especially when it's critical. Negative feedback triggers a primal threat response, leading others to become defensive, angry and self-conscious. It can weaken their overall effectiveness at work. And it might even cause them to prioritize relationships with those who affirm, rather than challenge, their positive self-view.
Whether it's provoked by a heightened state of stress or the pale of rater bias, our resistance to feedback runs deep. That aversion cuts both ways. According to a 2016 survey of more than six hundred managers, over a third (37 percent) said that they're uncomfortable giving direct feedback about their employees' performance if they think it will provoke a negative response, while nearly 70 percent felt uncomfortable talking to their employees in general.
While the reasons vary -- a perceived lack of time, coaching expertise, or fear of ensuing drama -- the outcome is almost always the same: Wary managers resort to feedback techniques like the "praise sandwich" that can end up doing more harm than good. What emerges is a tenuous feedback culture built largely upon evasion, confusion and self-delusion.
For more effective feedback, managers should build partnership through the use of simple conversation prompts. By increasing two-way conversation, you'll create a more authentic and revealing feedback experience that fosters trust, flows with the rhythm of work, and sets the conditions for positive, lasting change.
To change the tone and trajectory of feedback, try incorporating these prompts into your performance conversations:
Ask more "hero" questions.
Start by unlocking the potential of your employees with "hero" questions that focus on their strengths and stories of success. As they reflect on these peak moments, you'll get a better sense of how they got there -- and how you can partner with them to do it again. Among my favorite hero questions:
- Tell me about a time this month you felt energized.
- What have you learned about yourself from working on this project?
- What strengths have you found most useful on this project?
- Who have you recently helped, and what difference did it make in their work and yours?
Solve problems collaboratively.
When employees hint to a challenge, pay attention to their cues. Is this person holding back? What does that individual's body language and tone of voice convey?
By actively listening and scanning, you'll show genuine interest and engagement, putting the other person at ease. Rather than offer your own solutions, seek ways to understand the issue from the other person's perspective by creating meaningful dialogue. For example:
- What outcome are you trying to achieve?
- What is happening? Why do you think it's happening?
- What have you tried so far? How have you handled similar challenges in the past?
- Have you tried to resolve this challenge? What happened as a result?
Shape the path of progress.
If performance is a journey, then it's the manager's job to help shape a path towards progress. Once employees suggest a way forward, managers should guide their next steps. This steers the conversation towards actionable outcomes, making feedback more concrete. Here are some effective conversation closers:
- How do you think you'll act on this?
- What is holding you back from achieving your goals?
- How can I help you recreate the conditions of your success?
The best feedback helps others understand their strengths and provides the encouragement and guidance to build on those strengths. Turning feedback into a partnership sets the conditions for positive and lasting change. Making that small shift can produce a world of difference in your message -- and just might help others see themselves in an entirely new way.