Bearing the principles for delivering emotionally intelligent feedback from the previous article in mind, here are the steps for actually delivering the feedback. As a reminder that what you should be doing is stirring the recipient to change their behaviour, it has the acronym STIRS:
1. Set the stage
Make sure that you are in a calm, centred emotional state before delivering the feedback. If you are angry at what the other person did, get your emotions back under control. Let go of any ’emotional payload’.
Check your own motives for giving the feedback. Everyone has at some time been on the receiving end of feedback that is driven by anger, fear or the desire to feel better by making the recipient feel worse. Make sure you have genuine motives for the conversation, which could include:
- resolving an issue
- discovering the other person’s perspective (and being prepared to update your own)
- providing an opportunity for them to learn (and being prepared to learn yourself)
- repairing the relationship
Write out your ‘opening statement’ and get it down to a length that you can deliver in 60 seconds. If your feedback becomes a long monologue with no chance to respond, the recipient will feel under attack.
Choose an appropriate place for delivering the feedback: not in front of colleagues, and ideally on ‘neutral ground’ and somewhere you will not be disturbed by phone calls and work demands. Give your full attention to the recipient.
The way you sit in relation to the recipient is important, given that our emotions respond largely to non-verbal signals. Rather than facing front-on to the other person, which can feel confrontational, it’s better to be beside them, somewhat angled towards them, as if you are both facing the issue together.
2. Topic – identify the issue
Both you and the recipient need to know what the feedback is about. Get it clear in your own mind first.
Start with the words “I want to talk with you about… ” rather than “I need to talk to you about…” or “We need to talk”.
‘Want’ is more honest about your motives than ‘need’, and ‘with you’ suggests a genuine conversation rather than a lecture.
3. Illustrate the issue with an example.
Objectively describe a specific incident that is an example of the behaviour that you want to change, the effects of that behaviour, and why this example is important.
If you perceive that there are a number of issues, focus on the common thread that unites all of the issues. Ask yourself “What larger issue are these issues (or behaviours or problems) part of?”
You only want to feed back about one issue at a time, so as not to overwhelm the recipient or make them feel embattled.
Make sure your example is described objectively, as a neutral observer would see it, without interpretations or evaluations. Describe the incident as specifically as possible, so you are sure the recipient recognises what you are talking about.
When describing the effects of the behaviour, you can include how you feel about it.
When describing why the example is important, make sure that your reasons appeal to the values that motivate the recipient, especially when you are dealing with an ‘internally referenced’ person who ordinarily does not pay much attention to feedback. Ideally, include both ‘towards’ and ‘away from’ reasons.
What to avoid in your examples:
- Value judgements: Judgements are always your interpretation, and can be disputed by the recipient:
“You conducted that meeting badly” – they could say “People are always saying how well I chair meetings!” or just “No I didn’t!”
“You are not very good at organizing your time” – they could say “Everything on my to-do list is always ticked off by the end of the day” or just “Yes I am!”
- Universal generalizations: if you make sweeping generalizations about someone’s behaviour, they only need to find one exception to deny your point and get into an unproductive argument.
“You never listen to advice” – they could say “What about when the chairman praised me for putting his advice into practice?” or just “Yes I do!”
“You always belittle your team members” – they could say “Only yesterday I was praising Ali to the team for landing the Financial Services account!” or just “No I don’t!”
- Asking “Why?”: This question often elicits excuses or justifications, and tends to make the recipient feel as if they are being interrogated. Even if they sincerely attempt to give you their reasons, what they give you may be rationalisations that bear little relation to their real motives.
Indicate your wish to resolve the situation (at this point you can acknowledge your own contribution to the problem).
5. Stop talking and listen.
Invite a response from the recipient, so they can share how they see things and what they will do to resolve the issue. Make sure you understand their viewpoint – check your understanding by reflecting back what you think they are saying from time to time. This is also useful in repairing rapport if the recipient has been upset by the feedback.
Identify the issue:
“I want to talk with you about the effect your use of sarcasm is having on the morale of your team.”
Give a specific example:
a) Incident: “This morning in the team meeting, when Ali was giving his presentation, you interrupted him several times with comments about his nerves, and when you said “Brilliant presentation” in a sarcastic tone when he finished, he turned bright red and didn’t say anything else for the rest of the meeting.”
b) Effect: “A number of team members told me afterwards that they felt bad about this and had been on the receiving end of similar treatment from you in the past. Two of them said they were looking for a transfer. Also, a candidate who would be perfect for that vacancy in your team that’s been open for three months said that he would not join a team where people get treated that way.
c) Why this is important: “I feel concerned that if you carry on this way, you could lose all your best people. I also feel frustrated that you’re letting yourself down – in other respects you’re an excellent manager and this is the only thing that has stopped you from being promoted some time ago.”
Indicate your wish to resolve the situation:
“I want to see you get through this and reach your potential as a manager, and help your team be the best they can be at the same time.”
Stop talking and listen:
“I want to listen to how you see things – please tell me what’s going on from where you are.”
- Set the stage
- Topic – identify the issue
- Illustrate with an example and its effects – be specific and objective
- Resolve – indicate your wish to resolve the matter
- Stop talking and listen
(thanks to the extravagantly talented Resli Costabell for helping me with the acronym)