As a trainer and a coach, one question I am asked frequently is…
How do I speak to a specific team member about an awkward situation?
How do I deliver this message about improving a team member’s performance so it has a positive impact rather than a negative one?
The first question I ask in reply is… how do you feel right now about the prospect of sitting down with this person and delivering the message?
The answer generally is ‘anxious’, or ‘uncomfortable’, or in some instances, if the individual is feeling particularly honest, ‘terrified’!
So if this is how you feel, how do you think the other person will be feeling when you sit down with them to deliver the message?… maybe anxious and uncomfortable?. So, two people try in vain to deal with an important issue while both feel awkward, and as a result, one of two things generally happens…
Firstly, person ‘a’ blurts the message out in an attempt to get the event over with as quickly as possible, with the result that person ‘b’s’ barriers go up, they become defensive and the message doesn’t land.
Or, person ‘a’ feels so uncomfortable about delivering the message that they never do it; they skirt around the issue so much that person ‘b’ ends up completely confused – and both people leave the meeting feeling thoroughly frustrated!
Do you recognise either of these patterns?
So what is the most important thing when delivering difficult messages?
Well, the giveaway is in the title, if you perceive the message you are about to deliver as difficult then this can create a tense state in yourself. On the other hand, if you choose to view it as a message that the person needs to hear in order to improve their performance then the frame shifts, with you viewing yourself as someone doing your duty to help a colleague.
There are techniques you can follow to become more comfortable when delivering feedback…
Firstly, see giving feedback as an absolute must to allow everyone, including yourself, to improve!
Secondly, get comfortable before you go in, making sure that you are thinking about how you will feel after a successful resolution of the issue. If you begin to focus on WHAT MIGHT GO WRONG become aware of it and consciously change your focus.
Remember to breath! Shallow breathing causes anxiety and it is amazing what three deep breaths, and a focus on how you will feel afterwards, can do for your state of mind!
Thirdly, prepare, and make sure you wrap all constructive critical feedback into positive things that you have noticed about the individual… the ‘traditional feedback burger’ has its place to ensure your message lands.