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  • Writer's pictureKaren Stern

How to initiate the dreaded conversation

Admittedly, I can sometimes procrastinateabout the constructive feedback conversation. They just feel confrontational and hard to have. I suspect I am not alone.  But I’ve realized when we do this, we’re depriving our team members of an opportunity to grow.


A recent McKinsey survey of 12,000 managers indicated they consider “candid, insightful feedback” critical to career development.  Another international employee survey found that 72 percent of respondents rated “managers providing critical feedback” as important for them in career development, and another survey found only 5 percent believe managers provide such feedback.

Man sitting at desk in front of computer
Photo by Thirdman

The positive feedback conversation

 While providing positive feedback may be easier to initiate it’s also easy to be ineffective the key is to be specific. Simply saying "good job" doesn't offer any insight into what was particularly effective about someone's actions. Try more detailed feedback, like, "I really appreciated how attentively you listened to the client during that meeting and provided clear answers to their questions." It's clear that the latter is more impactful; it guides individuals on what they should continue doing and reinforces positive behaviours.

The constructive feedback conversation

 Initiating and giving constructive feedback is much harder. We’ve all been in that situation where we don’t want to make things worse by giving the feedback right when something happens (often in the middle of a hectic period), so we plan to do it the next day.  Often the next day the deliverables are complete, or the crises is over, and things are going really well and we don’t want to spoil the positive mood so we push it off to the next week.  By the time next week rolls around whatever feedback we wanted to give doesn’t feel relevant anymore, so we just skip the conversation entirely. Three months later the problem has compounded, and a more serious conversation may be needed.

Does any of this sound familiar? Consider these 3 tips:


1.    Approaching the dreaded conversation

A good first step is to seek a "micro yes" from the person, allowing them to feel empowered before diving into the feedback. Despite this, initiating the conversation with a simple "hey, can we talk?" can still be nerve-wracking and easily postponed.


2.    The debrief

 Try the debrief, it’s as simple as “hey can we have a quick debrief on that presentation”? Collectively share reflections. Start with your own reflections and what you felt you could have done differently (there is almost always something) like provided more support, more clarity etc. Ask for your team member’s reflections and prompt them to think about what they could have done differently. Brainstorm the way forward and move into the future as more effective people.


3.    Making debriefs a regular part of work life

 These aren't just project debriefs; they're what-just-happened debriefs. For example, "Can we debrief that morning meeting?" Once this becomes routine, it becomes a natural part of working together. People come to expect it, allowing for continuous reflection on what's working well, reinforcing positive behaviors, and identifying areas for growth and improvement. 


In essence, the objective of feedback.


Procrastinate no more

At the end of the day, the exercise of reflecting on an event – whether it’s a meeting, presentation, call with a client – and trying to learn from what went well and what didn’t (and why) is an opportunity for growth.  The routined debrief allows you to get away from the awkward “hey can I give you some feedback” and replace it with an engrained and ideally habitual approach to work.


Sometimes issues are more persistent and call for a more focused conversation.  Check out another recent blog I wrote on giving ‘advice instead of feedback’ to see if that approach is best for you and your team.



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