Years ago, a friend sought my opinion on his performance on a television talk show. There were others around at the time, so I had nothing but praise and mildly noted that he might have made more eye contact with his co-host.
Later, in private, I was more pointed in my comments: he appeared to hold the co-host in disdain…while she came across as uncomfortable, he made no attempt to put her at ease…for the entire show, he fixed his gaze on the camera and barely glanced at her, even when she asked him questions.
After an initial defensive response, he eventually expressed appreciation, saying he would keep it in mind the next time he was in a similar setting and noting that my candor was a testimony to the strength of our friendship.
As this anecdote illustrates, when giving feedback, it can be tempting to give a superficial “attaboy” or “attagirl” that pulls punches and avoids a potentially difficult conversation.
As communicators working in the realm of public relations and marketing, however, we cannot afford to take the easy way out. So check yourself: when you ask for feedback—whether it is for a blockbuster deal you just made or the choice of a shower curtain—what exactly are you doing?
Are you truly looking for an honest assessment that will help you improve? Or are you angling for affirmation? In short, are you seeking to grow…or to glow?
Of course, we all wish that an honest assessment is unabashed affirmation.
But on those occasions when it’s not—or ought not to be—it behooves us to keep our insecure, fragile egos in check long enough to take the constructive feedback to heart and improve.
Often, taking success to the next level, whatever that may represent, hinges on our willingness to hear others’ voices. When someone seeks your input, here are three tips on how to get your point across with sensitivity and impact:
I. Practice the “Sandwich” Approach
Feedback is especially beneficial when it is part of a “sandwich,” in which an individual begins with praise, follows with the healthy criticism, and then wraps up on a final note of praise.
Don’t be too mechanical about this. Simply keep in mind that another’s mind is more fertile for planting your point when you don’t just plow ahead like a bulldozer.
An excellent teacher of this principle is Amway Triple Diamond Greg Duncan. In helping build large organizations of Independent Business Owners, he doesn’t have an employer-employee relationship in which he can intimidate with the threat of firing or demoting someone.
So, as he has related at events like World Wide DreamBuilders’ Free Enterprise Days and Spring Leaderships, the key is to use diplomacy that preserves the relationship even as you impart necessary, and potentially painful, feedback.
II. Praise in Public, Criticize in Private
This one ought to be old news to you, particularly if you have ever endured criticism in front of your peers. Praising in public and criticizing in private improves morale and commands respect.
Its focus is on improvement, not punishment. Applying this principle reflects disciplined restraint and a long-term outlook on future results, not dwelling on past mistakes.
III. Salt Your Comments
Preface the heart of your feedback with an attention-getting comment. Here are a few samples that will prepare someone not only to hear, but also to take to heart what you have to share:
“If I saw a way to help you improve, would you want me to tell you as clearly and candidly as possible?”
“There’s something about your work that I think could be improved on. Is this a good time to share it?”
On the other side of the equation, we need to be genuinely open to feedback.
Too often, we seek to fight input that is less than gushing. We may lash out at those with the candor to tell it as they see it. “Nobody else has told me that” is one classic defensive reply.
Such remarks discourage honest feedback in the future and are a breeding ground for the development of blind spots in your character and performance. It does you no good when people nod their heads in patronizing agreement as you seek the empty warmth of blanket approval.