Success at delivering feedback hinges on our ability to understand and manage ourselves

Delivering feedback can often be as challenging as receiving it. Leaders and managers I work with often cite it as the most dreaded part of their role.  Clients often report the fear of the unknown response from their team members, or in some cases the expected negative response based on previous interactions they may have had with specific individuals. However Leaders can overcome this fear and even welcome the opportunity to deliver feedback when they are prepared to explore how they “show up” in feedback conversations and their contribution to its success or failure. No two team members have the same personalities or will react in similar ways to feedback, however if they perceive that the message they are being given is to help them succeed and that it is being delivered with positive intent they are more likely to be more receptive to it.

Developing Leaders confidence around feedback delivery can take time. When working with clients we often exploring previous failed and successful interactions to identify what or sometimes who triggers the unhelpful thoughts or behaviours which derail their feedback attempts. This is a personal and unique  journey and often helps leaders relationship skills beyond the workplace when successfully navigated.

Here are pointers which have helped some of my clients and which may help you become more successful in this area:

Prepare and be aware to succeed at feedback

Lack of preparation before a feedback session is often what my clients report derails their attempts to deliver feedback. The following should be considered:

  •  Explore your mindset around feedback and reflect on what is the purpose of the feedback?, What do you hope to achieve? What will the receiver achieve?
  •  Ensure the feedback message is backed up with fact and that there is a clearly defined goal or outcome for the receiver.
  • Self-management is often overlooked - leaders should prepare by taking time to reflect on the impact of their moods and emotion on others in previous feedback sessions. Consciously taking time to adjust any unhelpful moods/emotions and starting from a more neutral position positively impacts rapport which will build trust, better relationships and more openness from the other party to receive feedback.
  • Leaders often find unhelpful moods and emotions are a regular feature for them in the workplace and find it helpful to further explore the underlying cause. In recent times the challenging, fast paced environment and subsequent demands of roles are at the core and may require further exploration and focused self-management strategies.

Pay attention to physiological signs

Laura Delizonna when writing for the Harvard Business Review about Google’s quest to find the driving factor in performing teams highlights how an intimidating conversation( often driven by a lack of emotional agility in one or both of the parties) may trigger a ‘fight or flight’ response in our brains, similar to life and death situations our ancestors may have experienced when they were approached by predators. In such situations of increased threat, physiological signs such as increased heart rate or clammy palms are indicators that we may not be in our ideal state. Experiencing a threat in this state perhaps where the other party becomes defensive or sometimes offensive when we deliver feedback may undermine our ability to think strategically, respond rationally or perform at our best.

We may also notice these signs in the other party where their reaction is out of sync or they appear irrational. Understanding how the ‘flight or fight’ response may arise in ourselves as well as in others is important for Leaders in the context of having feedback conversations. Having this understanding highlights the importance of developing and strengthening workplace relationships as a leader where people trust that that the feedback they receive is delivered to help them develop and succeed.

Positive Intentions enhance workplace relationships

If the relationship between both parties is poor as a result of previous disagreements or where the team member has not responded well in the past to feedback, the Leader may have an unhelpful intention for delivering the feedback, such as proving or defending themselves. Being honest with ourselves about our motivation can help us determine whether delivering the feedback is  going to be helpful. Should we decide that it is, ensuring our intention is genuine will make it more likely that the person will be more positively disposed or receptive to it.   We can also impact workplace culture by giving feedback to others on our team with positive intention.


References:       Delizonn, L. (2017) High-Performing Teams Need Psychological Safety. Here’s how to create it. Harvard Business Review, August 24 2017