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October 6-8, 2024 • San Diego, CA

Mastering the Art of Constructive Feedback

Giving feedback to our team members can be awkward and uncomfortable.

We’re afraid this feedback will damage our relationship with them. And these feelings are valid–our brains view criticism as a threat to our survival. 

When someone asks to give us feedback, our amygdala fires up and we go into fight or flight mode. Feedback attacks our feelings of stability and comfort. 

But at the same time, we need feedback to grow into our best selves.

Feedback gives people the opportunity to be better team members, partners, and human beings.

When delivered well, feedback can actually strengthen your relationships.

So if we know feedback is tough but essential, how do we give feedback in a healthy way?

Meet Shaun Sperling, a facilitator and coach who helps organizations feel more connected to each other. Shaun sees two big mistakes people make when giving feedback

  1. They don’t prepare what they plan to say and
  2. They blurt out whatever comes up

But when people don’t prepare feedback well, there’s a higher chance that their feedback won’t land well. And this will damage the relationship.

Shaun has a simple yet brilliant framework on how to easily prepare your feedback. Let’s dive into his philosophy around feedback first. Then we’ll share his FAIR framework that will prepare you for your next important conversation.

FAIR Framework

Feedback is not about criticizing. Feedback is about aligning with the other person’s interests.

Before you give feedback, ask yourself:

  • Why are you giving this feedback?
  • What do you care about?
  • What’s in it for them?

Team members want to develop into the best version of themselves. Good managers want to contribute to their team member’s professional goals.

So when a manager gives feedback to their team members, they are helping them grow. And if they grow, their work is better which aligns with the company’s goals.

Everyone wins.

So how do you prepare for conversations like these? The FAIR framework has three parts.

#1 – Facts

Let’s imagine that Manager Sally noticed Employee Tim had sent poorly written emails to important clients X and Y.

These messages had spelling mistakes and an unprofessional tone.

It’s not enough to tell Tim, “Your emails are really bad…”

Which emails?

The ones he sends to the team? The messages that you two exchange together? And how do you define “bad”?

Sally needs to gather all the data that she sees and be crystal clear of what’s wrong. A good way to think of this is, “What can be proven in court?”

Do you have hard evidence that can support your claims?

In this case, Sally can specify that the last 5 emails that Tim has sent to clients X and Y have had Z combined mistakes.

#2 – Impact

Next, Sally needs to ask herself: what’s the impact of the thing she’s giving feedback on?

Potential ways this impacts the company:

  • Clients think that the company’s service/product will also be sloppy and rushed.
  • Clients feel they’re not important enough to be assigned a more senior team member
  • Client doesn’t trust that Tim is the right person for the job and decide not to renew

It could be any number of reasons. Sally must choose a message that’s relevant to her organization.

#3 – Request

Lastly, Sally can brainstorm a couple of options that can help fix this behavior.

Maybe she can proofread their emails to external stakeholders before Tim sends them. Or take some work off of Tim’s plate to give him more time to write these emails. Or enroll them in a grammar class.

She can have these ideas prepared before starting the conversation.

How to Have the Conversation

Now that you’ve prepared for the conversation, there’s a better chance the other person will hear your feedback.

During your next 1:1, open the dialogue to address the issue and get a sense of where the other person is.

Manager Sally: Hey Tim, I want to talk to you about the last three emails you’ve sent to X client. I’ve noticed some grammatical errors, and the emails feel a little messy. Have you noticed that?

Tim might respond that he has noticed this and take full responsibility for these mistakes. Or he might say how he had no idea that was the case.

Either way, start the conversation with a curious question instead of an interrogation. This will make Tim feel less defensive and be more open to engage in dialogue.

Other questions to open the dialogue:

  • “How’s your workload right now?” – This question lets you see if they’re overworked.
  • “How have you been feeling lately?” – This question sees if outside factors may have been affecting their performance recently.
  • “What do you think you’re doing well at your job right now? And where do you think you could use more support?” – This question sees how self-aware they are of strengths and weaknesses. 

Let’s continue the conversation as if Employee Tim was unaware of his behaviors.

Employee Tim: Oh no, I haven’t noticed…

Manager Sally: That’s okay. We’re all moving pretty quickly these days. But I’m curious what are your thoughts on the last couple of emails that you’ve sent to X client?

Employee Tim: I’ve never thought about it, but I guess they kind of look unprofessional…

Manager Sally: I agree. Sending messages like these can come across like we don’t care about the quality of our work. What do you think we can do differently to change this? How can I support you with this?

Tim should understand the impact of this behavior and get on board to fix it. Sally did a great job ending on a supportive note.

We always want to reaffirm your role with the other person. Stress that you are on their team and you want the very best for their success.

Manager Sally: Hey, I know this is a challenging conversation and I just want you to know that I am in your court. So whatever you need from me, I’m here to support you 100%.

To wrap things up

We give feedback to better align ourselves with the other person. It’s about getting closer to the other person, not further from them.

So don’t think about feedback as criticizing their behavior. It’s seeing an opportunity for them to grow into a better version of themselves. And when you have the right intentions, giving feedback can feel like a gift.

Never give feedback without a plan. Use the FAIR framework to prepare. When you have the conversation, open the dialogue with curious questions. This helps you better understand where they’re at before jumping to conclusions.

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