Generally, I am up for the challenge of giving difficult feedback. Helping someone understand how they may be getting in their own way can be rewarding, particularly because few like to give feedback and most want to learn from it. It’s for this reason that I push through my discomfort and offer my perspective. That said, a few days ago, I discovered one of the most critical elements of giving feedback: detachment.
At his core, I find Brian to be a generous, passionate, and motivational person. I’ve watched him overcome many personal changes and build a career he loves. While many of his technical skills make him someone worthy of praise in the workplace, other aspects of his professionalism are less than stellar.
Frustrated with his actions, and realizing that my trust in him was waning, I decided to address a couple of specific experiences I’d recently had. I thought if he understood the impact of his actions, perhaps he would consider a bit of self-reflection and find his way to a shift in behavior, netting him stronger relationships.
With this in mind, I approached the conversation directly. “I have some feedback and a request for help—which do you prefer first?” I asked.
Once we got the request out of the way, I shared my feedback, and was dumbfounded by his response.
“Let me give you some feedback on how you give feedback,” Brian fired back. “I’m tense and uncomfortable. You’re blowing these tiny experiences way out of proportion,” he insisted.
Instead of shouting, “Get over yourself and recognize that you have room to grow,” I asked, “Are you getting anything out of this conversation?” I hoped he might recognize that it took great effort on my part to give him this feedback.
“No, nothing.” he said.
Recognizing this conversation might have been better in person, I found myself reassuring him that this really wasn’t a big deal. “We all have inauthentic qualities about ourselves that we are blind to,” I said. “My feedback is purely to help you gain some perspective about yourself.”
Later I sat, pondering why I had back-stepped so much.
The simple answer lies in attachment. Fear of losing his support forced me to give up on his growth, and belittle my own feedback.
When you are confident in the feedback you are giving—when you know it will strengthen the person—it is important to stand firm, and avoid back-tracking to appease a reaction.
It is also important to understand that a reaction is exactly what you are witnessing. If you stand firm on your input and find a way to deliver your message with clarity and compassion, whatever the initial response, you have given food for thought that can be absorbed later. When you backtrack you blur the message, leaving doubt as to what has been said and why.
Whether you are the person receiving or giving feedback, time and distance is critical. When you give your employees, or yourself, time to discover the validity in feedback, the door opens on opportunities, responsibilities, and new experiences.