Last week I worked with 24 managers from the USA and Canada coaching them on their skills in performance feedback using a model of Results and Behaviors. At the heart of this feedback model is the fact that how you get results is important, not just the results themselves.
As expected many of them were relatively comfortable when it was necessary to give performance feedback that could be supported by data, information or some other form of objective criteria. For a few, the prospect of negative feedback in this aspect of performance was a conversation that created anxiety. For most, behavioral feedback created not only anxiety but discomfort and even fear of the reaction.
Our discussions focused on 3 key points:
1. Much of what we are responsible for as a manager leads us into areas of discomfort which we must work through in order to be effective as well as fair to those around us.
2. Regardless of our years of experience we never get completely comfortable with every aspect of our managerial responsibilities so facing our fears is a vital part of learning and growth; the key is to minimize the worst areas of discomfort and by doing so become less likely to delay or avoid dealing with the issues.
3. As managers we must be prepared to accept a stark reality and responsibility: "when we choose to delay or avoid giving feedback that puts us in an uncomfortable position we must, from that point forward, assume shared responsibility for nothing change in that person, his/her performance or behavior and in our relationship with the individual"
When we discussed point #3 there was a noticeable reaction in the groups. It was a recognition that there is more at stake than personal discomfort in those situations; the future of the individual, your team, the business and even your credibility and trustworthiness are at risk.
We are humans and therefore subject to fears, worries, anxieties, moments of self-doubt, etc. But we are also wonderfully capable of learning to face our fears, manage our anxieties and learn to do what we might have thought impossible or close to it.
In the groups we also talked about how important it is to help each other, to show empathy while offering constructive advice and strong support. Serving as sounding boards and "practice partners" were two easy to use techniques we worked and shared by means of role play and practice sessions, always ending in a feedback discussion...even if the feedback was uncomfortable to give.