Giving Direct, Hard Feedback




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The amount of progress that we make is directly proportional to the number of hard conversations that we’re willing to have.

Sheryl Sandberg

As humans, we are hardwired with the need to be known, to feel heard and to be loved. As a result of this innate desire, we tend to avoid difficult conversations or critical feedback when dealing with others.

It’s often said that if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all. But is this the best path forward if you truly love and care about someone, and have their best interests in mind? I believe we are robbing others of an opportunity to grow, and restricting our collective selves from our best output.

Before you get too excited about deploying this to everyone around you, it is essential that the other person “volunteers” to receive this direct, hard feedback. There is little hope in changing someone who is not interested in change. But remember, if change were easy, everyone would do it.

Young worker man and woman chooses check mark and puts it in the check survey box , cartoon vector illustration

I’ve found great wisdom in two quotes: “I want you to treat me like a gentle bulldog,” and the analogy of learning compared to a velvet-wrapped brick, “hit me hard, but lovingly.”

I believe as parents, employers, and leaders, our job is to nurture those who come to us for critical, direct feedback so they can grow.

As employers, we must build a culture of direct feedback into our operating system. We can then prioritize and incentivize straightforward communication with one another.

You can get bitter or better, you choose.

Josh Shipp

Words are very important – and we must take responsibility for providing feedback. If we are going to create a culture of working smarter, we need to give each other truthful, specific feedback.

A few years ago, I sat through a workshop held by Michael Allosso, and he taught our Vistage group a basic framework for building rapport. It centers around TSP, or providing truthful, specific and positive feedback.

In order to give someone direct, hard feedback, you need to first build rapport and trust with them. They need to know that you love them, care about them, and want to help them get better every day. This requires less talking, and more listening. So, sit quietly. Observe. Take notes.

It’s much easier to give Truthful, Positive feedback than it is to give the “Specificity” that is required to help the other person actually grow. The specificity is what helps “feed” the process, and it is often the critical piece that’s missing.

Specificity indicates that you heard and took the time to process what someone did or said. It shows you care and differentiates your feedback from the general “good job” or high-level shout outs that we are accustomed to. When you are specific, you call out a detail that takes you beneath the surface.

Once you have built rapport, you’ll need to channel your courage. Giving direct, hard feedback requires courage! And it will be uncomfortable, so it will require practice. Give direct, hard feedback often.

As leaders, we are responsible for acknowledging and appreciating the efforts of the people around us. To simplify this task, we can use our senses to notice and recognize when people are doing things well. By doing so, we make people feel visible and valued.

Once you do this, you will “unlock” the ability to provide direct, hard feedback and have it impact others’ behavior and responses.

When giving direct, hard feedback, be sure to attack the problem, not the person.

When dealing with employees, ensure you regularly schedule one-on-ones and quarterly performance reviews – and don’t skip them. It’s important to be available. How can you simplify this month to identify and recognize the positive aspects of your team? How about with your children?

When was the last time you had some critical feedback to give someone, and you took the time to ensure you had built the proper love and trust equity with them first?

Flip the script starting today, and take notes, both visually and audibly. Build the framework of the relationship needed, and set the right example of how you want those you love to treat others.

Action is contagious. Fill people’s buckets and yours will get filled as well.

Be well and God bless.

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Thoughts? Leave a comment.

One response to “Giving Direct, Hard Feedback”

  1. Steve Anderson Avatar
    Steve Anderson

    This is great Matt. Really love what you are doing and the angle here for building rapport.

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