How to Give Great Feedback and Save Your Relationship

two biz man“Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.”
– Yehuda Berg

Imagine this – you have just finished a presentation to about a hundred attendees out of town.

This particular presentation was not only your first of this kind but unbeknownst to the audience, you had had just a difficult conversation with a family member, which was not something you had planned for.

Regardless, you did the best presentation you could do and felt relieved that it was finally over.

As you are heading to the back of the room, an attendee walks up to you and says, you know what,  “That was ALL wrong!”

And then they proceed to tell me why and what you “SHOULD” have done.

This actually happened to me some fifteen years ago at an event. Needless to say I was totally gob smacked! 

I had barely had a breather to do my own critique without having to deal with this unexpected avalanche.

Not surprisingly, my amygdala was activated and my system went into a defensive mode!

Regardless of any merit that the feedback may have had, I stopped listening.

But thanks to this person, that day I learnt some very good things about giving feedback.

Here are five lessons:

  • Choose your time and place – you may be ready but is the other person? Is it the right time and place for you to do this? Having consideration of when and where you might have such a conversation will increase the chances of that conversation being a success for both parties. The second point will also help here.
  • Ask for permission – what is your relationship with them? Regardless of whether this is a colleague, friend, family, loved one or community member, asking, “would you like some feedback on that?” can be a helpful first question to ask. Sometimes, they might just want to vent and are not really interested in your feedback. Save your energy!
  • Ask the other person’s input first – in a manager-direct report relationship, it can still be a good idea to start by asking the person how they feel they went with a certain project or their goal. Hopefully the person is self-aware enough and you have enough trust credits that they are able to be honest with you. You can then use this as a springboard to add your feedback in a helpful manner.
  • Watch out for ABSOLUTES – refrain from ALL or NONE responses. As per the example above –  it may not have been the best presentation ever but was it ALL wrong?   Watch out for the EITHER/OR and ALWAYS/NEVER. This happens a lot in our relationships when we say – “You ALWAYS do that” or “You are NEVER this, that, or the other!”  Specific examples are helpful but generalizations provoke!
  • Refrain from SHOULDS – we are not the experts on the other person and ultimately it is their choice what they do and how they do it. Telling someone they “should” takes away their control and their right to choose. An alternative could be the softer, “Perhaps you may like to consider….”  You could also be invitational and ask, “ So knowing what you do now, what might you do differently?”

Before you are about to offer someone feedback, take a step back and do a quick check on the points above.

You will then not only be effective in getting your message across but you may  also just save that relationship and career!

 “We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.”
– Bill Gates


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