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HR: Defenses Against Violent Feedback Cheat Sheet by

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There is overwh­elming agreement among leaders that team members should receive perfor­mance feedback real-time, as opposed to just during annual or even quarterly reviews. The trouble is, most people only like to hear how well they are doing, not where they are falling down. Receiving feedback once a year may be uncomf­ort­able, but getting it real time could be akin to torture. There are altern­atives to tradit­ional ways of giving feedback.

Feedback is essential. No one likes it, but no one can improve without hearing it, both negative and positive. So how do we do it right?
Credit: By Marton Jojarth - Vice President, Customer Success at Equinix
August 12, 2015 at 6:23am

1. Look into the mirror

Nothing is more irritating to an employee than to be criticized for something the manager also does (or does not do, as the case may be). When I have the same gap that an employee has I start the discussion by talking about my own failing.

For example, I notice that in meetings Frank uses the phrase “you know” excess­ively. I would love for him to drop this habit so he sounds better and gets his message across more clearly. I think about my own speaking and realize I have a similar habit, so I talk to Frank about it. I tell him that I am trying to improve my own speaking and ask him to interrupt me every time I say “you know.” By doing this, I have developed a strategy for closing my own perfor­mance gap, while also helping Frank to reflect on his own errors in speaking. I do not have to criticize him directly to push him to improve.

2. Be a role model

People naturally evolve to become better at their jobs and other aspects of their lives. They do so by observing people around them, especially those they look up to, respect, and aspire to be like. As managers and bosses we should be aware that our employees look to us for how to behave at work and how to do their jobs well. When I see a gap in one of my team members, I try to expose them to learning situations where I can model better perfor­mance. For example when I notice that Mary could use some help when it comes to making presen­tations I might ask her to observe a couple of my presen­tations at meetings instead of directly critic­izing her perfor­mance. It is my respon­sib­ility to create these opport­unities for my team members to learn from me as I role model the skills they need.

3. Tweak their work

A typical way for a manger to critique an employee’s work might be to take a delive­rable, such as a spread­sheet or presen­tation, and list all of the things that the employee did wrong in creating it. This is a harsh and direct way to criticize someone’s work and it is very dispir­iting. Instead, what I do is tweak the project directly. I take that spread­sheet and make (at least some of) the changes I think it needs. I then send it back to the employee and describe the changes I made so that she or he can learn from them. If the changes are too numerous and I do not have time to do them all, I make a few edits and ask the employee to have a look at them and make similar changes throughout the spread­sheet. This approach, I hope, feels more like collab­oration between the two of us than a criticism of my team member’s efforts.

4. Feedback by invitation

People react better to feedback if they have asked for it. How do we make people ask for it though? If a team member has a weakness that needs to be addressed, I find an opport­unity to engage her in a conver­sation about what her own profes­sional develo­pment goals. I always let the team member come up with her own personal develo­pment plan, rather than me prescr­ibing areas where she needs to improve. More often than not, as part of the self-c­reated profes­sional develo­pment object­ives, the employee would list the same develo­pment areas that I have also noticed.

Most people are quite self-aware in this way. By prompting them to recognize a develo­pment goal and to trust me with helping them achieve it, I have gained permission to provide feedback which will not come across as threat­ening but as suppor­tive.

5. Passive role modeling

Sometimes I just need to step in and tell a team member that she is doing something wrong, but I still try to use role modeling instead of direct criticism. For example, Anne is emailing back and forth with a customer without resolving the issue. They are misund­ers­tanding each other and getting frustr­ated. Instead of telling Anne to just pick up the phone and call the customer, I tell her about my own similar experi­ence. I tell her that I notice the struggle she is having with a customer and that it happened to me once. I describe how I resolved the problem by calling the customer and that by picking up the phone to talk directly we were able to commun­icate much more clearly. I consider this passive role modeling because instead of pointing out Anne’s failing, I talk about my own, similar experience and how I resolved it.

6. Nonviolent commun­ication

This final strategy is a last resort. When the first five techniques fail to help an employee recognize his gaps and correct them, I fall back on this strategy. It is proven to work, but it is still a form of direct criticism that I prefer to avoid. When I have to use this strategy, it is typically because I failed to use the other four techniques well enough to help my team members improve. Nonviolent commun­ication is an effective strategy that has been developed over decades and it relies on empathy. When used for negative feedback, it takes the focus away from shortc­omings of the employee and instead, appeals to her desire to please.The essence of nonviolent commun­ication is a process using four basic statem­ents:
Observations. “What I observe is that you and the customer are having many emails going back and forth without the issue getting solved.”
Feelings. “I feel you are frustrated about it, and the customer is too.”
Needs. “I really value seeing my team members and customers commun­icating effect­ively because it resolves issues better for everyo­ne."­
Requests. “Would you be willing to pick up the phone and call the customer? I really think you would feel better after talking to him directly.”

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