How can organizations encourage open and constructive feedback between employees and managers? Are end-of-year reviews something you dread giving and getting?
Listen to this episode for an anxiety reducing way to address giving difficult feedback.

In this episode of The Career Rx we’ll discuss:

  • ways of delivering constructive feedback
  • navigating the pitfalls of traditional approaches
  • Recommendations on follow-up and documentation

Today we are taking a look at a four-step feedback formula that focuses on empathy, acknowledging the difficulty of the feedback, providing facts and data, and delivering a clear action plan for improvement.

In this Episode:

[2:15] Ready for the super secret magic formula?
[5:00] Facts are friends, not futile
[9:30] Follow-up plan = an effective communication strategy

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TRANSCRIPT: Episode 122 – Four Step Formula for Giving Difficult Feedback

Hey there, welcome back. Today we’re going to be talking about something that is so timely because it’s that time of year, it’s the end of the year, where you’re likely having feedback conversations with your boss, sometimes an annual review with your manager or with your direct reports with the people that you manage.

And talking about performance evaluations, and, and goals for the following year, and sometimes tying performance up into bonuses or promotions. So really, very hot topic right now.

So today, we’ll talk about how to give really constructive feedback, a four step formula for giving feedback, especially when that feedback might be difficult, when you want to give somebody the feedback they need in order to really step up and do a better job because their performance needs to improve.

Fortunately, we don’t have this problem with everybody, right, there’s always an opportunity to give constructive feedback. But sometimes you have really important feedback that needs to be heard, because a change needs to be made.

And when you have that, the feedback sandwich, for example, is a terrible approach for that, where you give some good glowing feedback, then you give your negative feedback, and then you follow it up with something good and glowing.

That does not work. I think most people know that. But in case you don’t, the research has basically shown it’s not effective, it can be really confusing to people, because they are wondering, Am I doing well or not doing well, or they will essentially focus on the good and ignore that middle piece. So if what you’re really trying to do is communicate that constructive part, the middle part, the sandwich is not the way to go. Let me show you a formula, though, four steps really easy.

And it will take away a lot of your anxiety if you have it and a lot of your uncertainty about how to approach these conversations in a way that’s really constructive, which is, of course, what you intend.

Okay, the first step is really to start with people in mind, right start from a place of caring, and not of judging, start from a place of support and heart and empathy, and mutual purpose. So this is really important to have mutual purpose and have mutual respect.

So you want to take a moment to set the scene and tell somebody how important they are to the organization and to you so and you want to communicate, hey, you’re a really valued member of this team and of this organization, you are really important to me.

And however, you know, whatever is the right way to sort of couch it, but you want to make sure that people understand that you value them, you care about them. You want them to improve and do their best, you want them to be successful here.

So you know, you’re really an important part of the team, you matter a lot to me as both an employee and as a person. And I really want you to be successful here. So starting with heart.

The second step is to acknowledge that this feedback might be difficult. So you may say, because of what you’ve just said before, because of that, that’s why it’s so important for me to give you this feedback, which might be difficult to hear.

You can phrase out whoever you want, but essentially you’re you’re you’re setting them up to know that you care about them, you care about their success. And you’re about to deliver some feedback that may be difficult to hear, what these things together should do is provide both a safe space and some clarity.

Because you know, it’s just human nature, when you start to get negative feedback, people become defensive, that’s likely going to happen.

So it’s important to set up that safety. And also to be really clear about what’s about to happen. And that’s why, again, the feedback sandwich is not really that helpful, because it is so confusing.

Then the third part, the meat of the feedback, you want to take some time to think about this, and perhaps even write it down because it’s so important to give facts and data. And to describe the impact. So you’ve got to stick to facts and be really objective here is what’s been observed. And whether those are things that are metrics, or even whether it is something to do with you know, the way that people communicate or or interacting with the team, whatever it is there have to be facts.

So you have to collect that and think about it, you got to have your facts and your data. And then you want to describe the impact on the business on the team. On perhaps patients it can really be on whomever right the impact on the the organization, the company, the environment, the team. And that is okay to be slightly subjective, right. That’s the part that is how it feels to be around these facts and data.

So you have to get the facts out. It’s really important. And this I think is hard to disentangle your observations from what you think are your judgment calls about those observations. So for example, if somebody does not speak up in meetings, or when they’re called on they speak in a really quiet voice we might make an assumption that they’re not confident, or possibly that they’re disinterested.

But these are assumptions. The fact is, it’s hard to hear them when they speak in meetings, or it is that it often requires some prompting to get them to contribute, right? Those are factual, leave your assumptions about why it is out.

The facts and data that matter to you and in your organization, your team, obviously are going to be specific to you, it may not be a lot about team meetings, it might instead be about the ways in which people either adhere to best practice protocols, or it might be about their timeliness.

And whatever is the metric, you know, that matters to you. Those kinds of things are going to vary across my listeners, so much. So you know, pick the things that matter to you. But make sure that you’ve described them on a really factual basis, taking a step back, and when you get the feedback from other people, and they say, “Hey, you know, we need to do something about this and so they are disruptive in this way or disrespectful in that way.”

They will also probably be giving you that feedback kind of tangled up in their assumptions and inferences. This is why it’s really important when you’re getting feedback from others that you’re going to sort of use as part of this conversation that you try to sift through.

How does the person feel about it, because that is important, you know, how they feel about it, how their behaviors are being received by others is important. But it’s the second part. So the first part are the facts.

And also, when the facts begin to establish patterns, that in itself is a fact. So you may want to include that in this feedback. whether something is an observed pattern, or has been, you know, that could be a pattern longitudinally over time, or it could be a pattern and that you’ve, you’ve received the feedback from a multitude of other colleagues and stakeholders. So again, facts and then the impact on the team.

And then the fourth part is simply an action plan. So you want to be really clear in the action plan of what needs to change. What does success look like right there? So we’ve laid out the facts of what’s happening today, what’s being observed today and the impact that it’s having.

So what needs to change specifically, in a behavior or delivery, in the way in which they’re showing up for work, and showing up for their colleagues showing up for the, you know, their internal stakeholders, or external stakeholders, for those of you who are clinical, this could include patients, but it can also include the multidisciplinary team, it can include your own team, it can, it can include learners, it can include, you know, residents, and students too.

So however it is that you need to see them change, something that is specifically related to the facts and the pattern that you just shared, what do they need to change?

And give a timeline, this is when you hope to see that change, right, you would like to see that change, and you want to be able to meet again, in X number of months.

And that might be, you know, depending upon how easy of a fix it is or how egregious it is, and you know, maybe a shorter time, maybe a longer time, but you want to be very, very clear about what I need to see change.

And here is how we’re going to monitor or track or report or whoever it is that you want to capture that data. It might be, again, something that is easily metric, or it might be something where you’re going to go and seek out feedback, again, from colleagues in three months, or in six months or something like that. But just tell people, here’s the follow up plan.

This is what I need to see change. This is the timeframe over which we’re going to evaluate it. And then we’re going to meet again, in x period of time to see how you’re doing.

That’s really the end. Now give us an opportunity, of course for the person that you’re giving the feedback to, to ask clarifying questions, which is healthy and important. But it’s not necessarily the needed outcome at the time that the feedback is given.

The reason for this, again, is because people often feel defensive. That’s normal, they might need some time to digest what you have said, you can offer for them to come back to you, after they’ve had a chance to digest what you’ve said, think about it.

And if they have a follow up conversation, or they want to have some clarifications, then you can have that, that meeting or that conversation. That’s a nice thing to offer. And that’s sort of in the immediate term, right?

Not the follow up and a few months or weeks or whatever you’re going to do in the immediate term.

That way you can essentially deliver the feedback and that you can end the conversation that can be really, really helpful. Because it’s often not productive to go into really, you know, deep discussions, or, or debate what the facts are.

It can be really a little bit of a rabbit hole that can detract from the feedback that’s being given and in fact, that kind of behavior is in and of itself, potentially problems.

I think because now you’re talking about something different, right? You’re talking about either excuses or deflection or defensiveness, rather than an introspection and a dedication to to improve. And obviously, if there is something that is demonstrably false, right, that the feedback that you have been given that you’re trying to deliver, is, is refutable. And that person is saying, that’s simply not true.

That is also a totally different conversation. And so, you know, if, if that’s the case, in and only you know, the person and the kind of feedback that you’re giving, right, but if that’s the case, then perhaps you do want to offer an opportunity for that conversation in between steps three and four, right? You’re giving your facts and then before your action plan.

But be clear, I think, in your own mind, and also to tell the person that you’re talking to whether you’re on a discovery mission, right? Are you trying to understand from their perspective, what’s happened? Or are you giving feedback and a corrective plan, because those are really kind of two different things.

So it’s very common, whether a person is doing it intentionally or unintentionally, for people receiving negative feedback to try to take you in a direction of, you know, defensiveness, and, and justification. But that, again, usually not constructive unless there was something that is factually untrue, about what you’re saying. And that’s why it’s so important to come with your facts.

So to recap, start with that mutual respect, that mutual purpose, caring about people, I hope that that is genuine, right? You care about their success, and you care about them as a human being.

And you care about them as a part of the organization, because as long as they’re employed there, they are valuable, and you want them to contribute at the highest level, acknowledge that it may be difficult to hear the feedback.

And it’s perhaps that it’s difficult for you to give the feedback, right, that you’re going to have a conversation now about some difficult feedback. And then three facts and data and the impact that it has so removed from your assumptions about it and your interpretations of it, your judgments around it. Just what are the facts that are being observed? What is the impact on the work or the team? And then what is the action plan? What needs to change by when, when you’re going to meet next about it.

I hope that that four step feedback formula helps you to have more productive, more constructive conversations with people who report to you and for when you really need to see a change in certain behaviors.

Don’t sandwich it between a bunch of compliments, which you can give, but give them separately, give them at a different time. Right? It is important, of course, especially if somebody is underperforming to try to reaffirm the things that you’d like to see. But don’t do it. Sandwiched In with the same time you’re trying to have a tough conversation like this.

People need to hear it, they need to hear it separately. And they probably need to hear it as a short conversation that ends that has an open door for follow up. But that does not go down a rabbit hole of long conversation, long debate and discussion. The feedback is given that the plan is clear. You care about them. That’s the end.

Say to definitely include a follow up email. So you’ve documented what you’ve said, make sure that that part is really clear, especially the part about the what needs to change, right what needs to change by when and when you’re going to talk about it next, put it in an email, write it down, send it to them after the conversation.

Not only is that important for documentation purposes, and what have you, but it is helpful, I think for people who may not be able to digest everything that you’re saying when they are feeling somewhat defensive, which again, you’ve created that safety so you try to minimize it, follow up with an email, back negative feedback, it can be hard to give.

That’s why managers often don’t give it or when they give it they don’t give it very effectively. But I hope for you since you are listening to this podcast to advance and accelerate your career to become a better leader.

I hope that these tips will help you to provide really good feedback so that you can be the leader you want to be and that people will want to work for you and be developed by you and they will know that you can help to make them better and they can trust you.

That’s all for today. Bye for now.

Before you go, please leave me a review on Apple Podcasts, share and subscribe to this podcast. Your support makes all the difference and it truly helps this information reach someone who may really need it. Until next time, thanks for listening.

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