What would you rather do, bungee jump or deliver direct feedback?

21 Jul No Comments Swati Bharteey-Buck blog, Leadership

When I was fresh out of college, I was bursting with excitement. I had landed a job with a great firm and I was going to set the world on fire.

Orientation was going wonderfully, but then, on day 3, I was told that I had been moved to a new department. My predecessor had left suddenly, the role couldn’t be left open, and, through some swift maneuvering on my new manager’s part, I was slotted into the recently abandoned job.

A job that came with 9 direct reports.

9 direct reports who didn’t appreciate hearing how I was in some leadership program and they weren’t. 9 direct reports who had way more experience than me with my 3 days. 9 direct reports who saw the fear in my eyes.

Guess what? Bungee jumping would have been the best choice for me and those 9 people. Each morning my stomach lurched at the thought of having to say something to one of them that they may or may not like.

Within a week, I had developed several strategies to deal with my predicament. My favorite was to avoid giving feedback altogether. At other times, I would mumble something and leave out the actual feedback. Sometimes I would even take on my direct reports’ tasks instead of telling them what to do differently or working with them to come up with a new solution.

Lots of painful experiences and some great mentoring later, I finally did learn how to give feedback in a productive manner. My stomach still flips sometimes, but I’m happy to report I won’t be going bungee jumping anytime soon.

Here is what I learned:

1) Open with a sentence or two that lets the other person know what to expect, such as, “I have some feedback for you. Is this a good time?”
2) Describe what the person did with facts and then explain the impact. For example, “When you interrupted me 3 times in our meeting, I walked away feeling like you didn’t want to hear my point of view.”
3) Don’t pepper your feedback with compliments. It will confuse your message and frustrate the recipient. For example, “I just want you to know that all of us recognize that you do great work. By the way you aren’t getting that promotion/new project/funding you asked for. But seriously, your work has really helped this company grow.” Statements like this can be very disempowering and can cause cynicism.
4) Describe what you would like. For example, “I would really appreciate knowing you heard me and considered my point of view before you state yours.”
5) Pause and let the person respond. There may be additional information you don’t have. The recipient may have feedback for you too. Listen with an open mind.
6) If appropriate, brainstorm how the situation could have been handled differently.
7) Ensure you keep a flexible mindset with a commitment towards the recipient’s growth, and potentially your own.

Cheers to your leadership success –

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