Two weeks ago, I blogged on When Feedback Hurts. We have all experienced those painful moments (they can be the hardest to forget, unfortunately). As a leader, we recognize that receiving feedback is important if we are to grow, but we also need to consider how we give feedback to others.
We may not always be aware of all the instances we give feedback. It is worthwhile to notice the comments and criticism we offer. A teacher is late bringing in his class. You note the lateness, and unbeknown to you, he is thinking you don’t understand what is involved in getting this group organized and ready to go to the library. With this negative feedback, will he be as willing to schedule his class in the future? Will he be open to collaboration?
The IT department has not responded to your request to address an issue. You are justifiably frustrated and send an email, copying the principal, saying the delay is affecting student learning. Do you think the IT department will be more or less responsive to your next request?
You give feedback to students all the time. Perhaps a group is supposed to be working on a project and is obviously more interested in socializing. You tell them it’s time they settled down and got back to work. Are they now more or less engaged?
It’s not that these issues shouldn’t or can’t be addressed, but words count and so does the delivery. Consider these alternate approaches:
- If you said to the teacher, “Let me get them started. You can probably use a breather after getting the kids here today,” the teacher will feel taken care of, not criticized. You’ve let him know you’re aware of the challenges he faces. And he’s more likely to start the process of getting his class organized earlier so they’re not late in the future.
- If you sent the IT department a message (not including the principal) and said, “Help! I really need you. I appreciate how very busy you are, but I hope you can make this a priority,” their response is likely to be far different from that annoyed email where they were embarrassed in front of a superior. And you’ve shown you understand their workload.
- If you said to the students, “Now that you have completed the preliminaries, where are you planning to go next?” Because they need to respond, they are more likely to focus on the task and start working.
While it’s important to let people know you’ve noticed them doing something that doesn’t work, there are ways to move from that information toward something that is helpful to you, them, and the relationship you want to have with them going forward.
Be Specific – This allows people to be focused. You can tell the teacher in advance what the class will be doing, which can support them all to arrive prepared. The IT department will appreciate as much specificity as possible. Telling them it’s important to you, doesn’t make it important to them. Let them know how their work will have an impact. Your next question with students should direct them on how to start.
Be Timely –The more immediacy you bring to giving the feedback the better it will be. The teacher knows he is late. The IT department is buried in requests for tickets and doesn’t usually think yours is special. The kids are going to have fun until you show them there is fun in the task. Once you’ve pointed out the situation, move on.
Be Prescriptive – What can they do to improve and how can you help? Once the class is going, ask the teacher if he could use a brief reminder early in the day about the impending visit. Ask the IT department how they determine priorities and if there’s anything they need from you in the future, since your request affects so many students. Tell the students you are looking forward to seeing whatever it is they are to do next (a reminder here to be specific).
Be Encouraging – Let the teacher know you recognize the challenge of getting kids to the library as scheduled and are glad to help. Assure the IT department you are aware of their workload and appreciate all they do. Tell students the project is challenging, and you are looking forward to seeing their creative solutions. And the second part of this is to recognize changes. When the teacher arrives on time, say you appreciate what it took to get this done. Thank the IT Department every time they are responsive. (This is the time to copy the principal.) And, if possible, make a positive specific comment to the students when you see what they have accomplished at the end of the period.
So often (maybe even more often) it’s the little things that count. Leadership is not just huge projects with big outcomes. It’s what you do every day to encourage, support and work with the people around you.