A great dinner is incomplete without appetizers and dessert.
Similarly, when it comes to feedback, your main course is only one-third of the conversation. What comes before (appetizers) and what follows (dessert) will determine the quality and effectiveness of your message.
There’s a whole leadership industry out there talking about how to deliver constructive feedback. However, no one talks about how to begin and end a feedback conversation.
Influence author and psychologist Robert Cialdini talks about the importance of “pre-suasion,” which is the process of arranging cues for recipients to be receptive to a message before they actually hear it.
How, then, do we coach our direct reports to be receptive to a message that is hard to swallow?
Step 1 – Appetizers anyone?
Research done by a team of psychologists at Stanford, Yale, and Columbia University have identified a 19-word script that results in feedback becoming 40% more effective. It’s a one-word phrase that’s so effective that psychologists call it “magical feedback.”
According to Daniel Coyle, author of The Culture Code, this feedback script works well because it establishes psychological safety and belonging in three specific ways. It tells the recipient:
- They’re part of the team.
- The team is special and has high standards.
- The recipient can meet these standards.
Just by using the 19-word script, you’ve successfully established the why behind giving the feedback, and in doing so, disarmed resistance.
Step 2 – It’s time for the Main course.
I’m here to tell you that only 15 minutes of planning and a little bit of delivery practice prior to the meeting will make a significant difference between a mediocre and great feedback conversation.
Before you enter the room or fire up the zoom, you should have a firm grasp on the following questions:
- Have you identified the specific behavior that you want your employee to correct?
- What’s the impact of their behavior and how is it adversely affecting their performance?
- What’s the specific outcome you want your employee to produce after your conversation?
In addition to having responses prepared, come prepared with the following questions to ask the direct report:
- How do you see this situation?
- What do you think is the reason behind it?
- How might have you contributed to this situation?
- What impact is this having on you?
These questions are designed to level the playing field by transferring ownership of the problem to the recipient. This also helps to establish belonging and safety.
Here’s something to watch out for. Just because you’ve had the conversation, doesn’t mean the employee has committed to making a change.
Step 3 – Don’t forget dessert.
In the world of feedback, your words matter. But what matters more is what your employees hear. Don’t forget to check for confirmation by closing out your conversation with the following questions:
1. What specific actions are you willing to take?
The answer to this question will influence your employee’s understanding of the conversation. It eliminates confusion or misunderstanding of what you’ve discussed.
2. How can I support you?
The answer to this question will give you concrete steps to support your employee’s growth while gauging their motivation for taking action. It ensures alignment and also establishes you as a trusted guide in their journey — another psychological cue.
After a couple of days have passed, follow up with the employee by reminding them of your observations. If the employee has improved, call out their improvement and reinforce it with positive feedback. If the negative behavior still persists, remind the employee of the commitment you had agreed upon, and help them understand how their behavior hasn’t changed. Offer to help them in their journey.
Like a good meal, effective feedback requires a good cook (you), fresh ingredients (feedback) and an appetite (receiver). I humbly suggest you don’t settle for a good meal, but make it a great and memorable one by adding some appetizers and a crème brûlée.