The really challenging part of executive coaching is in the feedback, get this right and you reap the rewards that come with it 🙂
Get feedback wrong and you’ll quickly find out how awkward and unpleasant the experience can be for both parties!
As they say, the devil is in the detail…
Not many people know this but, there is a way of giving feedback to someone when they are doing a bad job without offending them or demotivating them.
You may find yourself with a new team or a new employee and even though you know they are not good enough, you keep putting off that conversation where you have to give them feedback and tell them they are under-performing.
It can be extremely difficult to tell someone their performance is not good enough, particularly when no one has ever provided feedback to employees before.
The good news is that the majority of employees do want your feedback:
When employees do not receive honest feedback about them under performing, even the smallest amount of feedback can often come to them as a BIG SHOCK!
Even though it is right to tell people they are not doing a good enough job, it can also be risky and have very real negative consequences to them, you and even the entire team.
This disruption is huge and any employer or business wants to avoid this at any cost. (Which is the No. 1 reason for the continuous cycle of a lack of feedback in a business).
But there are unwanted side effects to the perceived safety of not giving feedback:
What if I told you that you can give people honest feedback whilst avoiding the heartache of offending or demotivating them?
To this day the people I have taught these feedback tips to continue to call me and tell me how well it has worked for them. This is a technique I have dubbed “balancing the scale” and here is how it works.
If you imagine that every relationship you have with everyone you know is represented by a scale, and that when there is no conflict between you these scales are balanced.
When giving feedback to employees you are doing the equivalent of dropping a huge weight on one side of the scale and this upsets the balance of the relationship.
When this happens people then :
This is very bad. If you find people responding like this then they are not listening to what you are saying. This is because they are preoccupied thinking about what to say when you stop talking!
Any progress you were making has now been halted in its tracks and as a coach even if you get them to do whatever you are asking them to do, they will stop doing it at the first opportunity they get.
It may also have the consequence of breaking down the relationship between you over the long term, which is something you want to avoid if you want to be successful when giving feedback.
Step 1: This feedback technique is simple and easy and if you are like many of the Managers and Leaders out there you’re already being honest which means you are 50% of the way there
Tipping the scale with honesty is necessary because you have to be honest about how you believe they have performed. The problem is the longer it’s been since someone has heard the truth the more negative the feedback is going to feel for them, and the more dramatically the scale is going move.
Because they haven’t received feedback little and often, they are going to feel like you’ve just dropped a bomb! (even if the feedback is not that bad, they will very likely perceive it to be that way).
Adding the weight to the scale or giving the initial feedback is only the first step in the process..
When you do this you will very likely notice a change in the person’s mood or behaviour.
They may get incredibly angry and frustrated with what you have told them (this is the easy one to spot). In the book Crucial Conversations, they have identified this as the “Violence” reaction.
They could go very quiet on you. This is more difficult to spot but it is important you take the time to observe this. In “Crucial Conversations” they call this reaction “silence” and it is essentially a withdrawal from the conversation.
(For more details about how to spot “Silence” and “Violence” check out the Crucial Conversation book series. They are an excellent source for improving your self awareness and have some solid techniques and strategies to improve communication skills – especially with how to give feedback)
When you can feel that the relationship between you is beginning to change and you get that tension and sense of conflict of either “silence” of “violence” – then that’s your queue for step 2 in giving feedback.
Step 2: Balance the scale again.
There are a number of ways you can do this, but as a guideline the more dramatic the reaction to the feedback you have given, the more time you need to spend balancing the scale again, by using positive feedback and observations you have noticed about them.
This may feel strange at first because you’ve probably never done it, or even seen it done well before – but that’s okay.
Whats important is that your planning, prior to the conversation, is really strong as this will definitely help you hit the ground running.
Positive feedback doesn’t mean using information falsely or making things up to make people feel better. In this situation it simply means explaining the positive opinions you have about them are still true.
In other words:
You’re going to say “I know about your good qualities and this feedback about your behaviour hasn’t changed my opinion of you, I still think you are…”
They need to know that you don’t think they are a completely different person, just because you are giving them some negative feedback. Remember you know everything you know about them but they do not and it’s going to feel like things between you have changed a lot.
A bit of reassurance goes a long way here.
Planning really is the best kept secret of the most skilled executive coaches! Planning what you will say is the best way to give feedback.
Once the scale has been balanced back out again you can continue the conversation, but this time it will be without any shouting, screaming or the frosty silence that could continue for weeks or months into the future.
Getting this right will enable you to do the things that no one thinks is possible. Skilled executive coaches are far more successful than mediocre coaches when it comes to giving feedback.
They take the hassle and drama out of situations that everyone else finds so hard to deal with.
This leaves them free to focus on getting out in front of the pack and staying there.
Next time you can sense a breakdown in the conversation you are having, have a think about how you can balance that scale back out again!
Step 1 – Observe the person’s behavior after you give the feedback
Look at the reaction to your feedback. Has the person gone into defense mode (violence) or have they gone very quiet (Silence)? If you find either of these then you’re ready for step 2.
Step 2 – Reassure them, so they do not feel the need to defend themselves
Show them that the feedback you have given them on this task or behavior does not affect your opinion of them (because they will care about this a lot). Good examples would be
Step 3 – Discuss consequences to the organization and the effect their actions have had on other members of the team. It is likely they will not have thought far enough ahead to realise these.
Step 4 – Giving new instructions
Coach them on better ways to complete the task by sharing your experiences in a way that they can understand. Remember, they do not have the experience that you do in the relevant task so keep it simple and concise.
Them failing doesn’t make you a failure as a coach, remember..
Being a great executive coach is hard work. It requires control over your own emotions and reactions.
This should not be confused with suppressed emotions.
People who suppress their emotions might appear to be professional when compared to those people who lack impulse control and this maybe true. However these people will also lack the positives that come with expressing yourself in a respectful way.
No one wants this from a coach:
You probably know a few managers or coaches like this, very professional but also very controlled with their emotions, these people will come across as reserved and distant from their workforce.
But people don’t like feeling uncertain, they like to know where they stand.
From our experience, for employees to be happy they need to see that you as a person in authority are happy with what they have done.
In other words:
How you feel needs to be clearly seen in your body language, your facial expressions and those expressions need to match the actual words you are using.
It is well documented that any conversation where non-verbal communication is not aligned with the verbal communication, people will default to take meaning from the non verbal communication. Pretty tricky for them to take any meaning at all if you are like Mr Spock! You will leave people completely in the dark and they will never fully know what it is you are thinking.
There are huge long term benefits to people feeling happy about the work they have done from the efforts they have put in.
Employee Labour Turnover is just one benefit of many
So that’s how we’re coaching in 2019.
Now we want to turn it over to you: Which of the steps from today’s guide are you going to try first?
Are you going to use performance coaching instead of performance management? Or work on goal setting and feedback?
Let me know by leaving a quick comment below right now.