Feedback is something that we all know is extremely important, yet often we shoot from the hip. Where there should be leadership intentionality there is leadership immaturity.  How can you provide feedback that makes a difference? What if your goal is to provide feedback with enough impact people drop their “I’ve got it all together act” and start to see themselves as others see you them.  For this to happen you must become someone who can walk into a situation and see things that others do not see, giving people penetrating insight into the situation. 

There is a law firm in New York that has an interesting promotion process from being an associate to become a partner in the law firm.  Once you have been an associate for three years you can apply to become a partner. This is a panel interview process made up of current partners. If you are denied you must wait one year plus one day to re-apply. If you are denied the second time once again you must wait one year plus one day before reapplying.  If you are denied the third time you are terminated from the firm.  There was an associate who had made the three-year requirement and applied to become partner. He was denied. This was not a surprise as he anticipated this process to be challenging.  Over the next year he volunteered for additional pro bono work and was intentional with looking for cross-functional opportunities. He reapplied to become partner. He was denied the second time. Over the course of the next year he took on more international work. His heavy travel schedule cost him his marriage. His health was also deteriorating. He submitted for his third and final time to become partner. He was denied again and terminated.  As he was leaving with his belongings in hand he stopped at his friends office that was a partner on the panel interview team. He asked his friend if after the first interview they knew he wouldn’t become a partner? His friend replied, “Yes”.  He then asked, “Why didn’t you tell me that.”  The friend replied, “I didn’t want to hurt your feelings.” The absence of meaningful feedback cost this employee his marriage, his health and his career.

If we are honest with ourselves, we have all found ourselves wanting to give meaningful feedback but didn’t because we did not want to hurt our friends feelings.

There are 4 guiding ideas for giving feedback so meaningful that it results in ripping the blinders off without making people resent you.

1.     Discuss your commitment to the employee at the very beginning – More often than not feedback is misunderstood not because of “what” you have said but “why” they think you have said it. It is imperative that you bring the skill set of backbone and heart into this conversation. Backbone being defined as the ability to call out the hard issue. Heart being defined as your ability to stay connected with the person even when the relationship is mired in conflict.

2.     Separate intent versus impact – A natural response to meaningful feedback is to excuse or explain their intent. Be crystal clear your feedback is based on observable impact and not questioning their intent. This sets the employee up to be curious and ultimately take responsibility for their impact.

3.     Be direct and let them know: “Now I am going to be challenging!” – By announcing that you are going to be challenging, people get the message but do not take it personally or resent you for it. Great leaders deliberately make challenging statements to jar people from their every day view and invite them to see things differently.

4.     Recognize them for who they are, not just for what they do – Great leaders go beyond recognizing just the task. Meaningful feedback connects their unique qualities of excellence to what they do. To acknowledge someone, a leader might say, “I want to recognize you not only for the work you put into your presentation, but also for your attention to detail. I can tell detail is important to you.”

Giving high-quality feedback has more to do with caring enough about people to tell it like it is that it has with having a particular skill or technique.
— Robert Hargrove, Executive Coach

Meaningful feedback involves having the ability to acknowledge people for who they are and what they are capable of and being willing to have the tough conversations.