Of all the least-loved tasks of a leader, delivering critical feedback is right up there at the top.
Many leaders ask us: Can I say that? Should I really say that? How can I deliver this feedback in a way that will have the impact I intend? Will it get results?
And our answer is always the same: It’s not what you say, but why and how you say it.
If you’re delivering difficult feedback, the “why” must come first. Why are you giving this feedback? For your message to be well-received, the answer should include the overall benefit and success of the person receiving it.
The “how” should follow the “why,” to ensure that how you deliver the feedback makes the person feel supported, encouraged, and cared for.
Kim Scott, whose method for delivering feedback is called Radical Candor, says feedback should come from caring personally. For us, caring personally isn’t just personal but includes the following beliefs:
- We’re here to reach our potential, and when we do, we’re happier, more engaged, and have more to give.
- Life is a twisting and challenging path. We don’t just go from A to B, but zig-zag towards our goals.
- Challenges and obstacles aren’t bad but are opportunities to learn, change, and pivot.
A caring attitude means asking yourself, “What’s the best way to say or hear this so that the other person and I feel motivated and excited about what comes next?” This approach helps mitigate defensiveness and reduces the sense of threat by framing the feedback with an eye toward the person’s growth and learning.
And this isn’t just applied to the other person, either. You must first and foremost care personally about yourself. Think about your own mistakes, self-criticism, and ability to receive difficult feedback. With a caring attitude, we are able to be wrong and self-critical without the sting of the inner critic. We can admit mistakes, be vulnerable, learn, and grow publicly without shame or defensiveness.
Care brings courage and compassion, and when you have great compassion for another, you can say anything to them with respect and deep regard for their development.
So, next time when you have to give or receive difficult feedback, put care front and center, and let it inform the conversation.