It’s that twinge of discomfort you feel when you witness employee behavior that needs immediate pivotal feedback.
Hearing negative feedback triggers adrenaline, which makes us shut down (freeze), get defensive (fight) or disengage (flight). All of which create the opposite results of what we really need from an employee feedback session.
As a leader, you’re both the coach and the cheerleader (if you’re into sports metaphors).
The COACH model is your secret-sauce to providing pivotal (aka negative) feedback that keeps employees open, receptive and engaged.
Let’s dive in!
Caring and Careful approach
Caring: Approach with empathy and positive intent
Feedback should always leave the recipient inspired.
A caring, empathetic and supportive approach with help your employee be more open to hearing what you have to say.
Careful: Be thoughtful to not discourage behavior that is positive
Often, an employee’s intent is good, but would be more productive with different execution. Be careful not to discourage behavior that is positive but poorly executed.
For instance, interrupting with questions (you want them to stay curious and comfortable asking for clarification) or always having a reason why not to do something instead of providing solutions (at least #NegativeNancy is participating with critical thinking instead of being disengaged and apathetic).
Acknowledge the intent and importance of the behavior that is positive and productive before your next step of getting curious about the delivery.
Always ask for permission to have the conversation (even if it’s rhetorical)
Keep your employees more comfortable by keeping them empowered.
By asking if it’s an okay time to check-in, you keep it on their terms and give them an opportunity to “opt-in” (building ownership and participation) or suggest another time if they need to cool down (or think or go to a meeting, etc.).
Example: It looked like you were frustrated in that meeting. Would now be an okay time to share what was on your mind?
Ask their perception (and Assert yours first if needed)
The more questions you ask the better. Especially when you ask about their experience.
Part one: Asking is a form of honoring, empowering, and respecting. Ask as much as you can and let your employees discover and problem solve, which enhances accountability, engagement and fulfillment.
Part two: Ask their perception. By asking for their perception, you honor their experience.
Use think/feel language (what do you think about… how do you feel about…). Asking what they think honors their competence. Asking what they feel humanizes the experience and creates connection. Since decisions are mostly made from our perception lens and/or emotions, we get more honest answers by connecting with this approach.
Additionally, you can’t argue with someone’s perception of something, so they can express their experience without judgment or ridicule. It also leaves room for other perceptions, experiences and possibilities, leading the way for a productive and open conversation about alternate approaches.
Part three: If your feedback is unplanned/in-the-moment, you’ll likely have to assert your perception first to open up the conversation and set the context. Just be careful to keep your perception as light as possible to leave room to hear there’s (more important).
Your perception only sets the context, theirs provides the content of the conversation.
Example: It seemed like you were frustrated in that meeting. Is now an okay time to share what’s on your mind? [yes] What did you think about the interaction between you and Jane?
Example: How do you feel the project is going? (A perfect opener even if you already know something is off course)
Curious about the possibilities
Inspire their curiosity about different approaches and solutions
If you want to create accountability, engagement and empowerment, let your employee be the one to think of a better approach/solution.
This means you have to stay curious asking questions (not make suggestions/statements).
Hopefully, after the above COA strategies, your feedback recipient is still open and curious.
Humans are driven to be competent, praised and accepted. Often you’ll find employees already know they could have done something different, but they’ll only feel comfortable sharing that with you if you create a safe environment.
If they aren’t open or don’t see a problem with the behavior (which is hopefully rare), you can make a suggestion, but word it as a question.
Example: “Do you think there is a different approach you can use to get [desired result]?”
Last resort example: “Do you think [this approach] would help [get this result better]?”
How integrate/implement the solution
Create an action plan and followup conversation
Your only goal here is to support them in getting results for themselves.
Yes, it benefits you/the company/co-workers, too. But stay in a place of supporting them so they feel comfortable keeping you as a partner in their success instead of seeing you (and future conversations) as a threat.
Example: What can be done to work on [discussed approach]? When can we follow up to see how that’s going?
Let the COACH model help you make giving pivotal feedback more comfortable, positive and productive!
Q: When would you have appreciated this approach when someone’s given you feedback? How could you use this approach in providing feedback with a current employee challenge? Share your comments below so other leaders can learn from your experience!