Are you avoiding a tough conversation?

In the past, I admit I thought avoidance was an effective tactic. I didn’t want to create conflict. How do you tell someone that he came across unprepared and no one was buying his ‘rubbish’? (I’m being nice.) I was a junior team member, why would he listen to me? If I didn’t say anything, then there would be no conflict! That was my strategy.

It all came to a head when we next visited a client together. Again, John was unprepared, despite that I had sent him a briefing with all the information he needed to be effective. The next morning there was a voice mail from my client. He wanted to talk right away, to give me feedback.

My shoulders rose to my ears. Isn’t that always the reaction when you hear the word “feedback”?

I waited as long as I could to call my client back. A deep breath, and the truth comes at me. Hard.

John’s ‘rubbish’ finally came back to bite him. The client was frustrated. How did John not know their challenges and what solutions they had already tried? Bottom line, ‘Julie, we appreciate what you all do for us, but we are not impressed with John and don’t want to work with him. We’ll keep doing some work with you, but not with John.’

Translation: $100,000 loss in revenue.

Lesson learned: I should have said something to John earlier when I saw that he hadn’t prepared. My strategy of avoidance failed miserably.

Have you been in a similar situation?

I didn’t know how to give feedback. In all my schooling, this was not a topic that ever came up.

Giving feedback is key. Do NOT avoid it! Do NOT copy my strategy of avoidance.

Don’t begin with, ‘I have some feedback for you’. Walls go up. Instead try, ‘I have some ideas to share with you’. Or my favorite, jump into the conversation. Your goal is to have an open conversation. This is the start of the discussion, that will most likely have several iterations, which is a good thing. (I know, I know, you’re rolling your eyes. I have two teenagers at home who are experts at it.)

4 Easy Steps to Give Feedback

1– Describe the situation where you noticed the poor behavior. The place and day.

2– Detail the behavior you witnessed. Make it factual, do not interpret it or judge it.

3– Explain the impact it had. How did that behavior effect you? It is key not to describe what others said, because that can create a tone of defensiveness.

PAUSE. Let it sink in. Count to 6.  And then, as a leader, gather all your courage and competence and commitment and conviction and character and start the conversation!

4– Make a request. This is key. It is one thing to give feedback. That’s half the conversation. You also need to let the individual know what behavior you would like to see instead.

These 4 steps are the start of the conversation. Ask open-ended questions with the goal of learning. Examples:

  • What do you need from me?
  • How can I be a resource to you in this situation?
  • What do you need to be successful?
  • What obstacles are getting in your way?

If the walls of defense are up, consider ending the conversation and scheduling another time to speak later in the day or even tomorrow. As often as I train people to give feedback, I also train them on how to receive it. One of the key pieces is to remain open and don’t pass the blame. When you point your finger at someone else, there are 3 fingers pointing right back at you.

Giving feedback is not always negative or constructive criticism. The best way to have someone continue doing what they do best? TELL THEM! Be specific. Use the same 4 steps as above.

James Baldwin once said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed.  But nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

Stop avoiding these hard conversations. Who can you give feedback to today?

Try the 30-day feedback challenge and give 30 pieces of feedback in the next 30 days. Positive or constructive, either way, practice giving feedback.