As a leader, one will occasionally have the need to deliver feedback that is critical of a team member or even the entire team. In doing so, two outcomes are most likely. One outcome has the capacity to hurt morale for the entire team. The other actually builds on the message and strengthens both the team member’s contribution to the entire team as well as the overall result from the team itself. Although criticism is negative, conveying its message properly should become a positive experience in an effective leadership culture.
As the leader, you are also the team’s coach. Ultimately leaders and coaches want to build up their teams. They do not want to browbeat them and create an angry, finger-pointing environment. Their hope is to change behavior in a positive way that enhances how the individual contributes to the success of the team in the future. When a weak link gets stronger, it strengthens the entire team.
For best results, it is of paramount importance to understand how an associate or team will hear your feedback. Look at it through their eyes. Therefore, what language and tone might you use to turn this into a positive coaching experience. Recognize that the person in question most probably feels as if they are trying as hard as they can, even though they are less effective than they should be. They may even feel, rightly or wrongly so, that other factors have contributed to the experience.
Here are some valuable tips for delivering feedback:
– Be unemotional when you deliver negative feedback. If you are emotional, take time to collect yourself and then deliver the message.
– If possible, confront the person in private where it’s just one-on-one. Never cast blame publicly.
– Keep the feedback focused on the specific act in question. Rarely use terms like “you never do this” or “you always do that” which tend to generalize or trivialize your message.
– If the entire team needs to hear the feedback, cast the blame publicly but in a way that is broader so everyone shares in the negative message, as well as the positive solution. Together, discuss how to improve and get everyone ultimately to own the solution.
– Before criticizing, try to gather as much information as possible from the person in question. In other words, get them talking about what happened and why they made the decision they did. They may have made the wrong decision, but they might also have been right (and you might learn something!), under the circumstances.
– Without casting blame publicly, turn the experience into a training exercise so that everyone can learn from the feedback.
True, there are times when negative feedback must be personal, especially when there is the need to coach individual improvement – anything from poor listening skills, a lapse in manners, speaking loudly and more. But most of the time, one person’s error or misjudgment can actually serve as an opportunity for a positive, teachable moment that can help everyone feel good about themselves and their contribution towards helping the team move forward.
Stan Silverman is a writer, speaker and advisor on effective leadership. He is the Leadership Catalyst at Tier 1 Group, a firm of strategists and advisors for preeminent growth. Silverman is vice chairman of the board of Drexel University, a director of Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania and former president and CEO of PQ Corporation. Follow: @StanSilverman. Connect: Stan@SilvermanLeadership.com. Website: www.SilvermanLeadership.com