6 Steps to Deliver Effective Feedback When You Dislike Conflict

6 Steps to Deliver Effective Feedback When You Dislike Conflict 150 150 Wally Hauck, PhD, CSP

As a consultant providing insights to leaders who value employee engagement, I often receive calls to address performance issues that could have been prevented by simply giving frequent and effective feedback.  If you see an engine light appear on your dashboard don’t you want to address it immediately? If you wait, don’t you risk additional expensive repairs and expensive inconvenience?  Performance issues are no less urgent than an obvious engine light.

Recently, two managers from one of my clients called complaining about the new employee who often withheld valuable information and didn’t always cooperate with the managers or the team members. This behavior was damaging the performance of the team.  The employee was attempting to hide some of his negative performance for fear he would be either criticized or disciplined.  Neither manager wanted to confront him with these truths because they both disliked conflict and feared making things worse.  This avoidance by managers is common.

The managers called me because they knew they needed an expert in delivering feedback.  At one point during our conversations they encouraged me to deliver the feedback to the troubled employee to avoid their responsibility.  “I can’t do that.” I explained.  “I don’t have any data or observations.  You have the data.  And, you need to be the ones to give the feedback.  Let me help you!”  

Their intentions were good.  They feared making the situation worse.  They just needed the proper methods and skills, the encouragement, and the proper context to deliver the feedback.  They knew they needed help.  The good news is, they asked for help.

Managers often avoid delivering negative feedback to avoid conflict and unintended negative emotional reactions.  Poorly delivered feedback can damage the trust in a relationship and lead to even more performance issues.  Effective feedback requires a high level of confidence, emotional intelligence, and excellent communication skills.  This is especially true during challenging performance discussions.

To make it even more stressful, an environment or industry with labor shortages (like the one they were in), managers will naturally hesitate to deliver challenging performance feedback out of fear the employee will quit.  Unexpected turnover increases costs for the company and drama for the managers.

To add to these challenges, there are also certain communication styles which tend to avoid conflict and the key manager in this situation (the one directly responsible for the troubled employee) was a “poster child” for one of these communication styles.

What can one do to deliver challenging performance feedback when we know the discussion will become an emotional conflict?  I provided six steps to the managers.  They acted.

A Behavioral Standard

We need a standard set of behaviors that the employees are willing and able to embrace.  This standard must include observable behaviors and is useful when it’s connected to the organizational values.  If you don’t have one, co-create it with a team of employees.  The managers already had one.

Reinforce Agreement on the Standard

If there is a standard of behavior, take time to remind the employee(s) how important the standard is and how it creates benefits for everyone including the organization, the employee and especially customers.

During a challenging performance discussion, a manager who references a standard of behavior can make the discussion about the standard and avoid criticism of the employee or their personality.  The presence of a standard allows the manager to stay calm during the performance feedback discussion.  The manager’s opinion is no longer needed. It’s about the standard of behaviors.

Acknowledge your possible contribution

Because managers (and especially Sr. Managers) are the most responsible for the working environment of an organization, it’s always useful for them to take partial responsibility for poor performance of a team or team member.  Taking some responsibility for the situation will reduce the tension, minimize negative emotions, and increase the cooperation during the performance discussion.  From the employee perspective, the manager could have easily contributed to the poor performance unknowingly.

If the employee believes the manager has contributed to the poor performance, and they aren’t given opportunity to release it, there will likely be a negative emotional reaction when the manager attempts to deliver their feedback.

Facilitate agreement to hear the feedback

Avoid giving the feedback without asking for permission first.  This gives the manager control of the interaction and concurrently, it gives the employee a sense of autonomy. This technique optimizes respect.  Increased respect leads to increased openness.  Once you ask permission to ask questions, you are able to lead the conversation by asking questions.

Adopt a process and practice

There is a difference between a script and a process.  A script can be restrictive and create an insincere impression.  A process includes specific recommended steps.  If the manager follows the steps and uses their own choice of words, the feedback will likely be sincere and will increase the probability of acceptance.  More importantly, if the manager practices the process steps, this increases confidence and sincerity which leads to acceptance.

Make the conversation about learning

Make the conversation about the learning and not about the flaws in the person.  Both the manager and the employee will learn from a valuable feedback conversation.  Avoiding criticism of the employee can be accomplished if the manager follows the previous steps and then focuses on process and methods that the employee uses to achieve goals.

The manager and employee can brainstorm options for changing methods.  The discussion is NOT about the employee and/or their personality.  It’s about “What can we learn, and how can we improve our methods?”

The managers followed these recommendations and the result was very positive.  Furthermore, their success has led to improved courage in providing feedback in other situations.

Anyone concerned about delivering negative feedback can learn from my two client managers.

Check out the interview on C-Suite Best Seller TV to learn more about how to stop leadership malpractice and replace the typical performance review: https://www.c-suitetv.com/video/best-seller-tv-wally-hauck-stop-the-leadership-malpractice/

Wally Hauck, PhD has a cure for the “deadly disease” known as the typical performance appraisal.  Wally holds a doctorate in organizational leadership from Warren National University, a Master of Business Administration in finance from Iona College, and a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania.   Wally is a Certified Speaking Professional or CSP.  Wally has a passion for helping leaders let go of the old and embrace new thinking to improve leadership skills, employee engagement, and performance.