One of the critical skills of leadership is the capacity to give feedback. Entrepreneurs and leaders have a sense of where they want to go and in getting there they want to make sure that the people working with them have the skills to make things happen and achieve critical goals.
Therefore, a developmental conversation--a conversation focusing on the skills, capacities, and attitudes of those who work with you--is essential. One of the most challenging aspects of the developmental conversation is feedback. It implies a degree of evaluation. It implies being a bit directive. It is that point at which you take all the listening and all the questioning and begin to share your reactions.
It is that phase of a conversation in which you want to share your observations and your point of view, express your opinion, take a position, and make a suggestion.
Why is giving feedback so challenging for so many?
First, we all know that giving critiques, however necessary, isn't easy. We like to gloss over problems and we hope that, with time, things will adjust themselves.
But no matter how difficult it is, feedback is the critical step in a developmental conversation. It puts on the table blind spots people have, and the impact they have on others and on goal achievement.
Feedback must improve a situation by enhancing the skills of the person you are talking to. It must empower, not breakdown. It is about the other person and their potential--it is not about your own anxieties or doubts.
Below are five tips on how to give feedback:
1. It is not about the character, it is about the behavior. Don't attack the person. Instead, suggest how behavior can be changed. "You're not detailed orientated" is an attack. "Your bottom line will improve if you spend more time focusing on details" is a suggestion. The difference can be subtle, but it is vital.
2. Be focused. No hinting. No generalizations. Be specific. Use concrete examples and make reference to specific events. Always refer back to items raised in your conversation. Don't expect people to understand the meaning behind your words.
3. Don't ask too much. If you suggest to someone that they improve in every way, don't expect anything to happen. There's a limit to how much people can change and learn in a window of time. Set realistic goals. Make sure you prioritize your feedback so people won't be overwhelmed. Select three critical points to discuss. Prioritize the ones which need immediate attention.
4. Be a guide. Supply feedback and suggest a course of action if the person is not coming up with one, but don't be authoritarian about it. While you may have a good plan, your suggestions should not come from the voice of final authority. Allow for a conversation and check for the reaction the person has about your suggestions. This is a dialogue and you would like the other person to have ownership.
5. Don't make comparisons. If you compare one person's performance against another, you are asking for trouble--even if it's a flattering comparison. You are setting that person as the standard. It is acceptable to compare past behavior of the individual with their present behavior, but never with someone else.