By Gia Giacomoni, Executive Coach – Highly effective leaders continuously seek to better themselves and help develop those around them. Giving feedback, and being able to receive it, is a main component of growth and improvement.
In my years as a leadership coach, it became notable that giving feedback was a major obstacle for most managers. They were uncomfortable having these conversations with their direct reports, uncomfortable delivering negative/constructive feedback; afraid of the other person’s response, and afraid of what to do if emotions took over. In our conversations, the only solution they saw was avoidance. This was due to fear of the unknown, as well as their lack of knowledge in how to navigate these tough conversations: “How do I tell someone something negative about themselves, that may potentially hurt them?”
Giving Feedback Doesn’t Have to Be Difficult
Feedback, when given promptly after the behavior has occurred, does not have to be so difficult. The SAO Model—which stands for situation, action, and outcome – focuses on the specific details of the action, helps remove emotions from the situation, and helps you understand the other person’s point of view. Overall, it provides a useful guide for delivering feedback.
Steps for Giving Feedback
When delivering feedback, it is best to always first ask the individual if you can give them feedback. This sets expectations for the conversation and prepares them mentally to receive the information. Then, move on to the next steps of the SAO Model:
- Situation: Be detailed about the specifics of the situation, which led to the action you are giving feedback about. When/where did the particular behavior take place?
- Action: What is the specific behavior you observed?
- Outcome: What was the impact of the individual’s behavior? What were the consequences on the business, clients, the team, the project, etc.?
- After sharing your perspective, ask for the individual’s perspective of your observation. Did you miss an important factor? Maybe the individual was having an “off-day” or they had a fight right before the presentation. What are some possible external factors that you may not be aware of? Come from a place of curiosity. Don’t assume. (Remember, that makes an a** out of you and me!)
Giving Feedback Means Listening
As Stephen Covey says, it is best to listen with the intent to understand rather than with the intent to reply, which we often forget to put into practice. When giving feedback, always try to understand where the other person is coming from, AS you deliver the feedback. Be candid, but tactful. Don’t sugarcoat or dance around what needs to be said. People don’t want to have to guess what you mean. “You never do do that…” or “You always forget to…” (general statements) vs. “In the meeting yesterday, when you stated XYZ, after the client spoke…” (specific situation and action).
Feedback is a Conversation
To boil it down simply – feedback is a conversation between two real individuals, with the intent to develop and enhance a person’s skills and potential. If, as a manager or a leader that is not where your feedback is coming from, you may need to check yourself. Then, it’s about remembering to add honesty, kindness, tactfulness, and candidness.
I look at giving feedback as an art, or a dance. You can use the SAO model as a guide, but of course, each situation will have to be tailored to the individual’s style. So, in closing, I ask you: If you could give feedback to one person in your organization, who would it be? How different would things be for you if you did discuss the issue (results wise, productivity wise, relationship wise, etc.)? Why haven’t you done it, yet?