How to have tough feedback conversations that help people grow

The authors of “Crucial Conversations” spent years researching what separates people with positive influence. Their research revealed people with influence have three core traits:

  • They get stuff done (they’re results driven)
  • They have great relationships
  • They’ve mastered the art of having tough conversations.

Have you ever put off having a tough performance feedback conversation – where you instead, hoped things would change – and they didn’t?

Putting off tough conversations costs everyone

Why do we hold off giving feedback? Stepping into uncertainty and vulnerability isn’t easy. No one see’s the world exactly as we do. Things aren’t always black and white and our understanding may not be 100% accurate. We also want to be perceived positively. All these things make it easy to rationalise away our voice.

Likewise, no one will want your feedback if you haven’t earned the right to be listened to. Your leadership example and the quality of your relationships – based on trust, respect, and how much you care – is the starting point for someone being willing to ‘try on’ your feedback.

Research from The Corporate Leadership Council showed that regular feedback outside a formal process, that is fair and accurate, is likely to improve performance by up to 40%.¹

How do you shape positive mindsets around feedback?

This week I worked with (let’s call him) Jim who’d moved into a new role. Straight away he could see his team lacked accountability. Jim’s challenge was balancing being the ‘good’ boss – wanting to motivate his team and get them back on track, versus being the ‘bad’ boss – bringing in consequences if the behaviours and attitudes didn’t change.

How do you move people from apathetic to accountable? From entitled to empowered?

While you can’t change someone’s mind, you can influence their thinking.

Regardless of where someone sits on the performance spectrum, they’ll be much more empowered to take the initiative, put the effort in, and create change for themselves when they:

1. FEEL psychologically safe

Ensure someone understands the conversation relates to their attitude and/or behaviour – not their character. People are NOT their behaviour. No one is all good or all bad. We all fear not being good enough. You can’t empower someone when their focus is on protecting and defending themselves.

2. SEE a compelling ‘why’ for change

Someone needs to be able to see the opportunity for themselves in a way that answers the ‘What’s in it for me?’ question. Their ‘why’ has to be intrinsically meaningful so the powerful questions you ask to shape their thinking matters.

3. BELIEVE they have what it takes to change

Focus on their strengths and past experiences where they tapped into the resources and resilience they needed. If they did it back then, they can do it now. Help them to believe they have everything they need to step outside of their comfort zone and move forward with your support.

Bringing it all together

A person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of tough conversations he or she is willing to have – Tim Ferris.

Real leadership is centred in growing and developing others into their potential. That’s why feedback conversations are a skill worth investing your time in. Conversations that show you care and demonstrate you want to help people succeed matter much more than being ‘right’ about the feedback.

P.S – If you’re a Brene Brown supporter then you might like to check out her ‘How to know when you’re ready to give feedback’ resource.



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