Mastering Leadership: Why We Hesitate Giving True Feedback
Giving verbal feedback is hard but you can master it.
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Most of us hesitate to give feedback face-to-face, even when it's our job. As a result, we often give sugarcoated, weak, and inactionable feedback.
This is a deal breaker if you're trying to grow into a leadership role. I've gone through this difficult journey. So, today, I'm sharing how you can overcome your hesitation.
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There are many reasons why we hesitate. Also, "feedback" is not just about being critical; it also involves challenging ideas, playing devil's advocate, suggesting improvements, etc.
So, I thought of sharing specific scenarios, how to identify why you hesitate and overcome them.
1. A peer is slipping deadlines 🕒🚫📉
Long time ago, I mentored someone junior who were constantly slipping deadlines and delivering poor quality work. It seemed like they weren’t even motivated and procrastinating. That impacted an important project.
What I told them: It would be great if you could finish your tasks soon. It’s delayed a lot. I know the area is new for you and you may be struggling with the tech. It happens. Ask for help whenever you get stuck.
They heard that I acknowledged their struggle, but they didn't understand how the delay impacted the project. They didn't even realize they weren't meeting expectations. Also, the issue snowballed in my mind.
You overthink, fearing that asking for a status update will make the situation uncomfortable.
You believe they might have a legitimate reason that you don't know.
You don't want to sound rude, so you soften the message.
Don’t rush the feedback. Plan it.
Be constructive and don’t use accusatory words.
Eg: I should have said - I fear your tasks are not going to complete on time, again. You have pushed the deadline 3 times and you haven’t shared where the team can help you. Can we chat about the problem in-depth? Pause & let them speak.
They should acknowledge the problem and share their perspective. If not, you have not delivered the message well.
2. Seeking a volunteer to delegate your task 🙋♂️🤷♀️🔄
Instead of saying - “This task is important but I can’t take it. Can person X or Y take it?”,
you say - “It would be great if someone had the time to do this or else I will try to find time.”
You get no "volunteers." Everyone is always busy. Your teammates will not understand the urgency and will assume you will get to it.
You don’t want to “burden” the teammates.
Perhaps there is a better owner, but you don't want to "tell" them.
Worry that this request may trigger a longer conversation for which you have no details, and fear the ambiguity.
Ask the potential owner directly.
Don't dampen the request by saying you'll do it when you can't.
Don't hesitate to have a prioritization discussion. If you don't know the details, say it out loud.
3. A teammate does not dig deeper into investigations 🔍🤔🚧
When a teammate is repeatedly leaving investigations incomplete for others to pick up. You may say, "Hey, try to take investigations to completion.”
This statement may sound "direct," but it might not lead to the desired outcome. Perhaps they are struggling with those investigations or are unable to find the right help. You hesitate to initiate a discussion to identify the problem.
You don't want to accidentally call them incompetent.
You worry about hurting their feelings.
You lack experience giving direct feedback.
Giving feedback isn't about blurting out what isn't going well. You have to understand their perspective. Only then can you make good suggestions.
I build good relations with peers when I can give them honest feedback. So, it's the opposite of hurting feelings.
Giving feedback requires you to choose the right language. If you have concerns, ask someone senior to help you with your situation.
4. Team not following safe practices 🚨⚠️💡
You notice your team or a sister team not following safe practices, which results in degraded service. You wait for someone senior to make the recommendations.
Maybe, you have a unique suggestion that nobody gets to hear. You don't build a reputation as someone who has good ideas.
You think it’s not your place to preach best practices.
You assume that you lack knowledge, so you can't chime in.
Software engineering is not a one-person job. We learn from each other. So, if you have a suggestion, say it.
Preface your suggestions with "I may not have full context," then pose it as a question.
Discuss your idea instead of proclaiming it.
5. Manager asks you how person Y is doing? 🗣️👥📊
When a manager asks you how one of their report, who is struggling, is performing. You say good things but brush over the gaps.
The manager thinks you are not experienced enough to provide quality feedback.
You think telling the manager is snitching.
Don’t want them to get a poor review or get fired.
You are unsure if the gaps are real.
Internalize that giving honest feedback is your job.
Timely feedback can help someone course correct.
Always state your observations and what the impact of person Y’s behaviors were. Be explicit about your confidence in your observations and that you may not have the full picture.
It isn’t easy to get over your hesitation, but I hope these examples help you make the leap. If you have an interesting scenario then ask them in the comments. I will try to share my perspective.
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