Give Feedback by Asking Questions
I’ll never forget a coaching meeting I had about two years ago. I gave the manager I was coaching some tough feedback and he replied by saying, “I know I do that.” So I asked him, “If you know this is an issue, why are we having the discussion? He told me, “I just figured this is the way I am.” And I realized that knowing a behavior is ineffective doesn’t mean we know what to do to make things better.
The people you work with want to do a good job. They want you to think well of them. Yes, even the people you think do little work and/or are out to get you. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Assume people are doing the best they know how to do. And when you don’t get what you want, make requests.
There are two ways to give feedback. One way is very direct.
Version one: “You did this thing and here’s why it’s a problem.”
The other way is less direct. Rather than telling the person what went wrong, simply make a request.
Version two: “Would you be willing to…” Or, “It would be really great to get this report on Monday’s instead of Wednesday. Would you be willing to do that?”
It’s very difficult to give feedback directly without the other person feeling judged. Making a request is much more neutral than giving direct feedback, doesn’t evoke as much defensiveness, and achieves the same result. You still get what you want.
When I teach giving feedback, I often give the example of asking a waitstaff in a restaurant for ketchup. Let’s say your waiter comes to your table to ask how your food is and your table doesn’t have any ketchup.
Option one: Give direct feedback. “Our table doesn’t have any ketchup.”
Option two: Make a request. “Can we get some ketchup?”
Both methods achieve the desired result. Option one overtly tells the waiter, “You’re not doing your job.” Option two still tells the waiter he isn’t doing his job, but the method is more subtle and thus is less likely to put him on the defensive.
You are always dealing with people’s egos. And when egos get bruised, defenses rise. When defenses rise, it’s hard to have a good conversation. People stop listening and start defending themselves. Defending oneself is a normal and natural reaction to negative feedback. It’s a survival instinct.
You’re more likely to get what you want from others when they don’t feel attacked and don’t feel the need to defend themselves. Consider simply asking for what you want rather than telling people what they’re doing wrong, and see what happens.
I will admit, asking for what you want in a neutral and non-judgmental way when you’re frustrated is very hard to do. The antidote is to anticipate your needs and ask for what you want at the onset of anything new. And when things go awry, wait until you’re not upset to make a request. If you are critical, apologize and promise to do better next time. It’s all trial and error. And luckily, because most of us aren’t great at setting expectations and human beings are human and make mistakes, you’ll have lots and lots of chances to practice giving feedback and making requests.
Tags: business communication, business relationships, employee feedback, employee performance, feedback at work, giving feedback, improving communication in the workplace, performance feedback examples, providing feedback to employees, receiving feedback