Contrary to popular belief, this is not your chance to express how you feel. A feedback conversation is actually a sales conversation. To empathize with what matters to them.
Before you speak, ask yourself, “Is this strategy or self-expression?” Strategy means only saying things that get you closer to changing the person’s behavior. You should only say things that you strongly believe will incentivize the other person to change in the right direction. Strategy is probably 10% of what you initially want to say. Self-expression is venting, having the last word, or trying to teach someone a lesson. It includes trying to prove you’re right and wanting the person to feel remorse. Anything that isn’t 100% going to encourage the person to improve goes in the self-expression bucket.
Ultimately, the energy you bring will set the tone for the conversation. Your recipient will be much more likely to hear you when they feel you have good intent. So bathe in your good intent, so it comes through in your body language, facial expressions, content, and tone of voice.
Identify what is most likely to motivate them to change. Write out what you want to say. Then trim 90% of that because it’s probably self-expression, not strategy.
Anything that is about trying to teach them a lesson, having the last word, sharing how they made you feel, getting them to admit wrongdoing… All of those are in the self-expression bucket.
Be specific with the actions, behaviors, or words you want the person to do going forward. They can only improve if they know exactly, specifically, explicitly what to improve on. If possible, get them to say what they’re committing to do. It’s easy for you to say a lot and ask “So do you agree?” They will of course say, “Yes, for sure.” But you can leverage cognitive dissonance if THEY say what they are committed to doing differently.
Keep your eyes on the prize What is the prize? The prize is behavior change. Sweet, sweet behavior change. Conversations are a mechanism for behavior change.
When giving hard feedback, most of us focus on our own feelings. We don’t think about how the other person might receive the news. The minute your recipient gets defensive, it becomes a lot harder to undo the defensiveness and get them to accept what you’re saying. So the trick is: don’t trigger the defensiveness in the first place.
Even when you are someone’s boss, you have to sell them on your idea. Even to your spouse, your family, your friends. “Selling” someone on an idea is the most generous thing you can do.
ultimately, helping the people closest to you feel seen and heard will improve almost everything you do.