Of all the least loved tasks of a leader, delivering critical feedback is right up there at the top.
Leaders and managers, coaches, teachers, supervisors, all of those charged with another’s development, sweat this stuff.
We’ve heard this from many leaders: 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?
Our answer is always the same: it’s not what you say, but how you say it.
Actually, it’s how and why you say it.
Let’s start with the why first.
If you’re delivering difficult, critical or negative feedback, the why comes first. Why are you giving this feedback? In order for your message to be received, and more importantly, received well, that why should include the overall benefit and success of the person receiving it. You want them to shine, to blossom, and become more capable at what they want to accomplish.
And the how should follow that why. How you deliver that feedback should be done so that the person feels supported, encouraged, and loved. Yes, loved.
It’s not easy to talk about love in a business context. But, since we’ve already broached the taboo of power, we might as well pull out all the stops!
We don’t mean personal love, or friendship love. We don’t mean love in a romantic, intimate, or transactional sense. We’re talking about love as an attitude – an attitude that includes:
- the belief that we’re all here to reach our potential, and when we do, we’re happier, more engaged, and have more to give
- a full embrace of the sometimes twisting and challenging path of life, that we don’t just go from A to B, but zig zag towards our goals
- a non-pathological view of nature that views difficulties and challenges as an opportunity to learn, change, and pivot.
This loving attitude helps mitigate defensiveness, which often happens when receiving feedback. Becoming defensive is a natural response to the perception of threat– whether that threat is real or imagined. However just as natural is the human aspiration to grow and evolve. A loving approach to giving feedback anticipates defensiveness and works to reduce the sense of threat by framing the feedback with an eye towards the person’s growth and learning. A loving approach 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?
And it’s not just about the other person. A loving attitude should first and foremost be directed towards yourself. What about your own mistakes, self-criticism, and ability to receive difficult feedback?
Love allows you to be wrong and self-critical without the sting of the inner critic. With an attitude of love, we can admit mistakes, be vulnerable, learn and grow in public without shame or having to defend ourselves.
Love brings courage – when you have great compassion for yourself you can act with courage. When you have great compassion for another, you can say anything to them with love, respect, and a deep regard for their development. When you have great compassion for the whole system, you don’t strive or waste time being frustrated with things that get in your way. You recognize that the blocks just mean there’s a different path to take, and you strive to align yourself and others to it.
So, next time when you have to give feedback or get feedback, and you’re searching for the strength to do so, put love in your heart and let it inform the conversation.
Lesli Mones and Julie Diamond