Sometimes, when a tough issue needs to be resolved, you have to confront a colleague with your perspective on the consequences of their behaviour. Many managers shy away from doing this, for various reasons: being uncomfortable with confrontation, not wishing to upset the other person, being afraid of opening a can of worms, hoping the issue will go away by itself.
However, if problems are not addressed, and the person is not given any indication that their behaviour needs to change, they do not have the opportunity to make changes. Sometimes everyone pretends that things are OK right up until the organisation feels it has no choice but to trigger disciplinary measures, which can be a costly process, a shock to the employee, and uncomfortable for everyone involved; other times, mediocre performance is tolerated, people do their best to avoid or carry the ‘problem employee’, and nobody says what they really feel, causing a drain on team effectiveness and people’s energy and enthusiasm for work.
Principles for Delivering Emotionally Intelligent Feedback
So how do you deliver necessary, uncomfortable feedback without poisoning your relationship with the recipient? Bear in mind these principles:
- Being clear about what your desired outcome is makes it more likely that you get it. Knowing your goal helps you notice any information that will help you get there, and adjust your actions to stay on course should something unexpected happen. Take a moment to think about what you want to happen as a result of the conversation. What do you need to do to make it more likely that you get your desired result?
- Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. This will help you to anticipate their responses so you can decide how you deliver your feedback. Put yourself in their place – how are you feeling at the moment? How would you respond to the feedback? Now modify your answers based on what you have observed of the person – everyone is different, so they would not necessarily be reacting as you would if you were in their situation. Get as much ‘into their skin’ as you can – the more you can ‘become’ the other person in your preparation, the more accurate your guesses will be about how they see the world.
- Honest conversations actually strengthen relationships. People have a need to be acknowledged and recognised for who they are, and appreciate it when you are speaking honestly and from the heart, even if what you are telling them is uncomfortable for them to hear. People can tell when you are not saying what you really think or just going through the motions.
- The conversation needs to impart information, without delivering an ’emotional payload’ that sets off emotional repercussions in others. If you are angry about something the other person has done, get your emotions under control before you have the conversation.
- Managers are not all-knowing, and no one person has a monopoly on the truth. We see events from our own perspective. The other person may have a very different view and may be aware of facts that you have missed. Part of the reason for having the conversation is to inquire into the other person’s reality, so you can both learn.
- Important feedback has to be delivered face-to-face. Email is not a suitable medium for delivering feedback, because the lack of accompanying non-verbal communication makes it so easy for the recipient to misinterpret what you are saying. As human beings, we need the information that facial expressions, voice tone and other non-verbal signals give us to provide the context in which we can interpret the way in which words are meant. In email communication, this contextual information is not there, and it’s easy for the recipient to assume the worst. For example, words intended to convey genuine praise may be taken as sarcasm.
- Feedback needs to be delivered as soon as possible after the incident that provoked it, while the event is fresh in both your minds. If you save up your feedback for a yearly appraisal months after the event, the recipient may have forgotten the incident that provoked it and will just feel attacked out of the blue.
If you bear these principles in mind, the results you get from the feedback you deliver will start to improve.
In the next article we’ll unveil a five-step model for delivering feedback in an emotionally intelligent way.