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  • Writer's pictureTony Richards

How To Prepare Yourself Before Giving Negative Feedback

The move for most people from player to coach is not always an easy transition. Let's face it, leadership is work. It's work to be the avatar for others to use as an example. It's work to build a compelling vision and then actualize it. It's work to go from getting the work accomplished yourself to developing the employees who do the work. Wins for you as the leader are now different than they were prior to assuming the leadership role. In addition to leading yourself, a chore many find extremely challenging, you now must lead others. Along with that comes the task of providing feedback to those whom you are tasked to lead. Many leaders face the challenge of tolerating the discomfort that comes from confronting others directly, even if what they have to say is appreciative or positive. Certainly, if one has never been given much feedback prior to assuming the new role, it makes it doubly tough. On the other hand, some leaders crave it in the other direction; they will say almost anything (or avoid saying anything) in order to attain approval from those they lead.

Self-awareness and self-management become essential for leaders to operate in a high-performance mode, especially in the area of employee development.

Self-awareness and self-management become essential for leaders to operate in a high-performance mode, especially in the area of employee development. A high degree of awareness helps us understand our personal power and how our behavior affects those we lead. Administering feedback, which is negative or improvement-oriented, requires us to be able to balance our own perspective with that of the person we are leading. If we do not present the feedback in a way in which they can identify or see the problem, why or how could they attempt to change? We also have to make sure we exhibit behaviors that enhance and build trust which are conducive to receiving the feedback, then accepting the support required to commit to changing the behavior for better outcomes.

1. Are you in an appropriate mood and attitude to be both honest and empathetic with the negative feedback?

If the person whom you lead has made you angry or set you off in some way, your feedback can become heavily judgmental. You may come off as making it personal and cause the other person to be extremely defensive rather than open-minded and receptive. You may get into a game of discounting one another's thoughts and feelings about the subject instead of approaching it in a less emotional manner. You may exaggerate or distort your expectations of the other person as stress and anger tend to cause us to go overboard rather than being clad and level headed.

2. Is the other person in the right mood to hear the feedback you have for them?

Timing is always tricky but ever important. Make sure you choose the time and place which is conducive for the other person to really hear and understand what you have to say. I always tried to avoid giving negative feedback in my office. High emotion increases memory retention and response, and I never wanted too much negative feedback associated within a person upon the thought of coming to my office. I usually tried to locate a neutral area whenever possible for the meeting.

3. Can the person you are leading do anything about the feedback you are giving?

Make sure you have thought through the feedback information prior to giving it in regards to reasonable adjustment by the other person. If they can't correct the situation alone, perhaps you or others can help. If you give negative feedback on things, which are beyond their control, you run the risk of really damaging their self-confidence and future performance. If they can do something about the feedback, make sure you probe in ways which causes them to come up with the answers before you start to rescue them with the answers too quickly.

4. Are you projecting some of your own baggage?

You may want to go over your feedback and plan with a coach or another trusted leader before you give the feedback to ensure you are being objective and sincere. Sometimes if we have had issues with a subordinate before or similar situations in our past, they can become emotional triggers for us rather than objective data. Make sure your own biases (and we all have biases) are not being imposed on the other person.

Giving feedback is an area almost all leaders need improvement. Delivering negative feedback makes it even more challenging. Working on yourself to improve your self-awareness and self-management combined with opening yourself up for leadership coaching are positive power plays for leaders looking for employee development results and rapid advancement.

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