Do You Lead a Team? Then You Need to Learn to Deliver Great Feedback

One simple thing you can say to eliminate 90 percent of problems when you’re delivering feedback.

One simple thing you can say to eliminate 90 percent of problems when you’re delivering feedback.

In the last post, we discussed how to discern if and when to give feedback. Now we’ll cover Feedback Principle #3:

When feedback is appropriate, we need to learn to deliver it well, not avoid it because we’re afraid of doing it badly.

Delivering feedback well requires two things: courage and skill. We need to be brave enough to give feedback when it’s necessary or important, and we need the skill set to do it thoughtfully and effectively.

I’ve found that most problems arise when we have one without the other. Sometimes we charge into giving feedback when we’re fired up about something or someone, and don’t really take the time or thought to learn how to do it sensitively. In other words, we have courage but lack skill. Often we’re tempted to defend this by saying “we have good intentions.” But good intentions aren’t enough … after we’ve told our friend that she has a weight problem, does it really make her feel better when we say, “I was just trying to help”?

However, I think the majority of the time we avoid giving feedback at all, because we don’t want to mess things up. Regardless of whether we have skill, we lack courage. And this is why so many important conversations never happen, whether it’s employees addressing a communication breakdown with a coworker or their boss, or family members getting to the root of why a fight happened.

On which side of the spectrum do you land? Do you tend to have courage, but need to grow in skill? Or do you not give enough feedback or have enough hard conversations because you’re afraid of doing it poorly, or of what it might do to your relationships?

The good news is that either way, there’s something you can do about this! We’ll cover some practical things you can do to deliver feedback with skill, and I’ll recommend some books and resources as well. Let me start with something extremely simple that you can say that could save you a lot of grief, before you attempt to deliver your next piece of feedback.

Try saying this:

“I really want to say this in a respectful way, but I’m still learning how to give feedback well. I apologize for the parts that don’t come out well, and could you please tell me afterward what I can improve for next time?”

How does reading that feel to you? Liberating or empowering, hopefully?

Here are a few things this accomplishes:

  • It communicates a desire to respect and value someone.

    This sounds incredibly simple, but it’s amazing how often this element is not part of a feedback conversation.

  • It acknowledges that our words and feedback have an impact on this person … and we care about that impact.

    Again, so simple but incredibly important.

  • It communicates that we’re a work in progress as we learn to give feedback well, and we’re inviting them to be part of that process!

    In other words …

Yes, we’re asking for their feedback … about our feedback! It can set the tone for the entire conversation, from defensiveness to openness. Again, when we give permission to others to help us through their feedback, they are more likely to open themselves to us as well.

Addressing the three things listed above can go a long way … in my opinion, it can eliminate 90 percent of the problems we tend to encounter during feedback conversations. It’s not only more honoring of people … it’s more effective too! 

It’s something you can apply right away, in just two sentences … so try it and see how it works for you!

Check back for more on delivering feedback well soon. Thanks for reading!

Adrian Pei
Adrian Pei works as Director of Creative Arts and Resources at Epic Movement, the Asian American ministry of Cru. He earned degrees from Stanford University and Fuller Seminary, and is passionate about writing and developing culturally-aware leadership. You can find him on his blog at www.adrianpei.com, or on Twitter at @adrianpei.