Peter Hughes
Jennifer Wilson

Conducting Performance Feedback

Three tips on how to break the ice gently.

March 3, 2011
by Jennifer Wilson

There is simply no greater gift you can give than to provide someone constructive performance feedback that comes from a genuine care and concern for their well-being and success. Telling someone what they are doing well, what they need to improve, what they should stop doing or what they should start doing allows them to course correct and get better. Not telling them, to quote my partner, Tamera Loerzel, is "like allowing someone to go through a whole meal with a piece of spinach in their teeth and not realize it until later."

In other words, not providing performance feedback is un-cool. So, why do we allow people in our lives — family, friends, colleagues, peers, subordinates, clients and others — to show up with spinach in their teeth (metaphorically)? What are we afraid of? I believe that we put off providing feedback because we're afraid of:

  • Hurting someone's feelings or that our feelings will be hurt
  • The other person stomping off in a huff and upset at us
  • Not making a difference and the behavior not changing
  • Not knowing the best way to communicate the improvement that needs to occur
  • Being too angry or upset and worrying about letting our emotions take over (and potentially saying something we'll regret)
  • Looking like our expectations are too high or that we're too hard to work with/for
  • Not being sure what we're thinking is accurate
  • Afraid we'll step on someone else's toes or don't have the authority to speak up
  • Worried that what we're going to share is something the other person didn't realize was expected

Benefits of Delivering Performance Feedback

First and foremost, doing so enables us to open up honest communication with the other person and frees us up to have a straight-talking relationship based on clear expectations. Doing so also enables us to:

  • Get feedback on ways we can improve our people and processes
  • Provide an opportunity for people to truly improve performance
  • Motivate those who are on the right track to continue on their path and inspire those who are not to shift directions
  • Manage those who are not performing to improve, which will provide us confidence that we've done all we could if we have to admit that a team member is not working out

Approaching a Performance Feedback Discussion

If you aren't sure how to approach a performance feedback discussion, consider a few possible approaches:

  • If you're not sure that your expectations are clear, the first discussion can be a teaching moment, in which you say something like, "I am not sure that you are aware that ..." or "I wanted to be sure you were aware of the expectation that we ..." or "I have an expectation and am not sure that I have communicated it or gotten buy-in from you on it ..."
  • If you are sure that the expectation is clear, you can express disappointment that it hasn't been met by saying, "I expected THIS but experienced THAT and wanted to get your input on why that is."
  • If you want to provide several different kinds of feedback, you can share what the person should keep doing ("I think these things are going well and should continue ..."), what they should stop doing or change doing ("I would like to see you stop doing [or change] these things ...") and what they should start doing ("I'd like you to begin doing these things ...").

As a last thought on this subject, it is always easier to take feedback from someone who is open to receiving it, so look in the mirror. Are you open and inviting others in your life to provide you feedback and help you identify your figurative spinach issues? If not, that's probably the place to start!

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Jennifer Wilson is a partner and co-founder of ConvergenceCoaching, LLC, a leadership and marketing consulting and coaching firm that specializes in helping leaders achieve success. Learn more about the company and its services at www.convergencecoaching.com.