How do you give someone critical feedback without them getting defensive but instead taking it in the spirit in which it was given?
Whether you are a manager who needs to deliver some suggested improvements for a team member, a spouse who needs to broach a difficult subject with your partner, or a parent who needs to course correct a child, it’s never easy to deliver criticism.
Everyone will struggle with it at some point in their lives. So, how can you do it effectively?
Open to Feedback
There are two types of feedback that people tend to be most receptive to hearing. I covered this more extensively in Coaching Toolkit: The Art of Feedback. Here’s the high level overview…
The first is the feedback that we consent to or ask for. People are much more likely to get defensive or push against unsolicited feedback. By contrast, even if the feedback is negative or critical, people tend to be more receptive when they ask for it.
The second is feedback that they already know but need to hear in order to work through. This is found in questions such as: what do YOU think about it? We tend to be more willing to acknowledge our own truth and perspective before accepting it from the outside.
In short, effective feedback is a function of whether or not the person receiving the feedback is open to it.
This naturally leads to the question: how do I get someone to be open to or solicit my feedback?
What is the key difference between how we relate to taunts from a bully versus advice from a parent? In this extreme example, it should be evident, that the difference, is intent. The bully intends to harm you. The parent, presumably intends to help you. At the core of this difference in intent, is the degree to which each of these individuals cares about you.
Ideally, we want those who are critical of us, to also care about us, or at the very least care about what we’re doing as part of a team.
Imagine a spectrum of caring from no care at all with a potential to harm, extending to deep care with the intention to see one flourish. Now place people from your life along that spectrum.
Which of these individuals are you most interested in hearing feedback from, especially negative or critical feedback?
Hopefully you can see that the closer you get toward care, the more likely you would be to accept or even embrace the feedback.
Now ask yourself…
Where are you on the continuum of care?
Do the people in your world, at home or at work, place you to the left, the center, or the right of that spectrum? If you want to have people seek out your feedback, or at the very least consent to it, then you need to make sure they sense that you care.
Care is at the core of critical feedback. Make sure that you are attending to it, before trying to give people advice. Because if you don’t, you could be wasting your breath.
Also published on Medium.