Let’s get deep. There is this thing called feedback that we learn as managers and employees. It is meant to get business results. Forests are destroyed from the print of millions of pages written about how to give feedback. And still, to this day, most people in business absolutely shudder at the thought of giving or receiving feedback.
It isn’t as complicated as we make it out to be. The simple truth is that human emotion is at the base of difficult feedback encounters, and the source of that emotion isn’t what you would expect.
Emotional neutrality is the most critical piece of making feedback easier to give, and easier for the other person to receive. Most of the time, our negative reaction to one’s actions have more to do with our own issues with ourselves than anything else.
Essentially, we are subconsciously mad at ourselves for being guilty of the exact same behaviour in some aspect of our own lives - personal, professional or otherwise.
Once we become aware of that piece of information, our system reboots and the bug is eliminated, giving us the freedom to move forward with emotional neutrality to address the situation at hand.
There are five simple rules to follow that will make feedback an absolute delight to embark on with your circle of influence.
- Preparation is key: Don’t improvise feedback, especially when you have an emotional charge to it. Preparing your feedback in advance will reduce your apprehension and hesitation, making your experience more emotionally neutral.
- Clarify your Primary Message: Before you head into a feedback encounter, make sure you are clear on the singular message you want the person to be left with. Knowing this in advance will help you with the next step.
- Neutralize the emotion: Feedback is a pain because most of us are trying to address, through others, issues we have with ourselves. Confront your demons first to neutralize the emotion. Find an area of your life where you are guilty of the same behaviour you are trying to address in the other person, and then give yourself the advice you would give to the other person. This will instantly reboot your system and clear the bugs.
- Observation without Advice: If you want to get results with feedback, make an observation and then end the conversation. As humans we have just enough capacity to hear an observation. It takes a whole different part of the brain to transform the observation into something tangible. To demand that kind of leap in the moment can be too much for some people. Nine times out of 10 the person will be intelligent enough to put 2 and 2 together and figure out what has to change. Give observation without advice.
To give an observation, first start by describing the situation and the behaviour you observed. Do this without judgement (no “good” or “bad”, just fact), and then state the business impact that was felt. Humans are capable of self-moderating once they are made aware of their behaviour. Hold the mirror, don’t jam it down their throat.
- Avoid Debate: For most of us, it is an inherent reflex to become defensive in the face of an attack. As the giver or receiver of feedback, you must transcend this insatiable temptation and end the conversation at observation only. If you encounter defensiveness, be clear: “This feedback isn’t really up for debate. You may accept it if you like, or do nothing with it. My only intention was to increase your awareness”. Leave it at that, and then watch as the person transforms into a more effective presence in your space.
A final note on feedback:
So often a slide in performance has more to do with a person’s self-worth and personal circumstance than with anything related to you or your business priorities. To increase a person’s effectiveness, you must first increase their self-worth.
Providing effective, emotionally neutral feedback that is a conscious and deliberate challenge to them, but one they can succeed at, is a great way to build self-worth. Remember to praise changes in behaviour as you see them occur.