As employers, sometimes giving employees corrective or developmental feedback can be the most difficult thing we do. It’s not always easy and as humans, we would rather not do it unless it’s completely necessary. It probably has to do with our basic need to be liked and the belief that if we give someone constructive or negative feedback, we will not be liked.
The reality is that when we are honest with people and help them with something that is not serving them well, they are often, (but not always), grateful.
I was reminded recently about the Buddhist Principle of “right speech.” What it says is that a well-spoken statement is one that is offered:
- At the right time
- From a mindset of goodwill
Any behavior change has to do with how the person “hears” or interprets what is being said. With these five guidelines, I think we can be much more successful at delivering feedback or guidance that will produce positive changes versus indifference or resistance.
At the Right Time – this should be self-evident but it’s not. When someone is in an emotional state, upset or angry, they are not likely to really hear anything you have to say. Make an appointment to talk with them or at a minimum ask “if this is a good time to talk about X” vs. just saying “I want to see you in my office.” Most importantly, it’s at the right time for the other person, not just you.
Truthfully – you’ve all heard the method of delivering feedback in the proverbial sh#* sandwich. Tell them something good, then the bad, then leave them with something good. I’m here to tell you that It doesn’t work. All they hear is the bad. So just get to the point and deliver the feedback truthfully, and also as neutrally as possible, e.g., ”Your behavior around X is causing your co-workers to disengage and be less collaborative with you. Was that your intent?” This is like the old TV show with Joe Friday, the detective, “just the facts ma’am.” You want to elicit the facts and not get into a big, long, emotional story.
Affectionately – I can imagine some of you cringing at this but unless the person to whom you are giving feedback thinks you care, they will not listen. They need to know that you are not heartless and sometimes “truth” can feel heartless so deliver it with care. Everyone has feelings. How would you like to hear the message?
Beneficially – I stand for your success is a phrase a friend of mine uses, and he means it. If you really want to help this person, say so and show how the change you are asking for or behavior you are talking about can help this person be more successful. It’s not about you, it’s about them.
From a Mindset of Goodwill – to me this means for the greater good. Take out the individuals and ask what is going to help the overall situation – which might include that this person doesn’t fit at this organization. It’s a kindness to help someone to the door who is never going to be successful in a particular job or at a company. Help them understand where they can be successful and how.
At the end of the day, if you do your best to deliver constructive feedback with the principles of “right speech,” you will have a better chance of being heard.