05 Apr

Making difficult conversations less difficult

“Method is not less requisite in ordinary conversation than in  writing, provided a man would talk to make himself understood.” – Joseph Addison

Ever put off having an important conversation because it all seemed too hard? Most of us have.

Having a difficult conversation at work is challenging, yet sometimes the impact of not having that discussion can be greater than putting it off. So what will make this all a little simpler and less daunting?


Ok, so planning the discussion won’t necessarily mean that it will be a breeze, however with a little preparation it can be easier and more productive. Every situation is different, so there is no ‘one size fits all’ formula for the planning of a difficult conversation – here are some suggestions that might help get you started.

Back to basics

  • Write down what it is that is of concern to you – this means that you will be focussed on the issue to discuss; writing it down helps ensure clarity
  • Try to look mostly at the facts of the situation (yet still acknowledge feelings of all parties so you are prepared to manage emotions!)

Conversation considerations

  • Ensure you are clear on what your objective is in having the conversation – what are you trying to achieve? how will you know if you have achieved your objective?
  • What will be your approach to the conversation – how will you start it? what are the main points that you want to get across? how will you seek the other person’s input?
  • Consider the best time and place to have the conversation

Reviewing risks

  • Think about what might go wrong in the discussion – forewarned is forearmed!
  • Consider how you will remain calm if things go wrong and what you might do to save the situation

These conversations are hard. They are often necessary. Make it a little easier by being prepared.

engagingPOTENTIAL: training, team development, coaching

Specialising in working with managers to develop extraordinary teams!

© Engaging Potential Pty Ltd

13 Oct

Structuring feedback

“We believe we do a better job at giving feedback than we really do.” – Rick Maurer

How many times have you given someone feedback and felt afterwards that it could have gone better?

This happens to all of us and it’s important to reflect on what could have been done differently. Chances are that your feedback may have been more effective by being more structured.

Receiving feedback – especially developmental feedback – can be a confronting situation and the clearer you can be in delivering your message to the recipient, the easier it is for them to understand what you are telling them. Well prepared and structured feedback will help minimise the mistakes of talking too much, not being specific and not explaining the impact of their actions.

There are many different models people use to structure their feedback. One effective model is ‘STAR’, which can also be used in interviewing. The model provides a framework to keep your feedback succinct, clear and relevant.

S/T = Situation or Task;

A = Action;

R = Result/s.

If you are providing developmental feedback, it’s also useful to be able to outline an Alternative Action (AA)and an Alternative Result (AR).

So how will STAR help?

Using the STAR framework will help you prepare and deliver a clear and focussed message. Ultimately this will enable you to  feel confident in delivery and help the recipient to understand the value of what you are attempting to communicate.

How many times have you received feedback that was unclear or not specific? “Great presentation Sally!” provides little value to Sally beyond the initial flush of pride at a positive comment. More benefit could be gained by telling Sally what you thought she did well.

In a similar fashion, “You are always late to meetings!” might initially indicate there is concern, but the recipient of this ‘feedback’ would perhaps be more likely to change their behaviour if they could see the impact or result of being late.

Here are two examples:

“Geoffrey, that was a wonderful presentation for the Directors today. When you presented your proposal (S/T) you spoke clearly, highlighted your points with relevant examples – such as the Solicitor’s Forum – and answered questions confidently (A). The Directors were clear on the recommendations you were making and they were able to make a speedy and informed decision (R).”

“Jane, thank you for presenting today. When you presented the slide outlining your proposal for the Directors (S/T) we noticed that there were some errors in the calculations – for example, with Case Number Two the totals did not match the figures given by Finance yesterday (A). As a result, the Directors were not confident in the information provided and so they have delayed their decision (R). For your next presentation, it would be useful to have the figures checked by Finance in advance (AA) and then it will assist with a smooth process for the decision makers (AR).”

Those receiving the feedback above should receive a clear message outlining their actions and the resultant impact/s. Of course, there are other factors that will determine whether they agree with and wish to act on the feedback, but hopefully they will understand what is being said!

Once you have used the STAR model a few times, you will find that it becomes easier to use and should enhance your confidence in delivering effective and valuable feedback.

So be effective and be structured!

engagingPOTENTIAL: training, team development, coaching

Specialising in working with managers to develop extraordinary teams!

05 Oct

Giving feedback

“Feedback is information about past behaviour, given in the present, with the hope of influencing future behaviour.” – C & E Seashore & GM Weinberg

Ever since we started communicating, there has been feedback! Even before speech, a facial expression or action could be used to indicate what you thought of someone or something. Today we are a little more sophisticated in giving feedback – hopefully!

At work, feedback can be used as an opportunity to learn and grow professionally. It can help build skills, confidence and competency. Given well, feedback can improve working relationships, increase performance and contribute to job satisfaction.

Feedback is important – both positive and developmental. Positive feedback is often neglected as people believe it’s not as important as developmental feedback. It could actually be more important! Leveraging strengths and reinforcing positive actions can create a productive and motivated work  environment. Think about last time you received feedback about a job well done – how did you feel?

Developmental feedback can be an effective way to assist others to learn new skills, to help resolve misunderstanding and conflict in the workplace and to reinforce performance expectations. Believe it or not, in many cases it can also motivate!

But what do we need to focus on to do it well?

Often our biggest mistake is giving non-specific feedback – e.g. “Great presentation!”. Whilst this might seem like good feedback, it is not feedback given well. Feedback should be specific and behaviour related – “Great presentation! You had a very clear agenda, you delivered your message succinctly and were able to expand on points when required.”

Next time someone gives you feedback like “Great job!” ask them “What was it that I did well?” It might seem strange at first and some will hesitate, however in most cases it will provide you with specific information to use for ongoing success.

Being specific and behaviour focussed is perhaps even more important for developmental feedback. If someone is given feedback like “You had a bad attitude today” or “You talk too much in our team meetings” it may be difficult for them to take anything from this to learn and develop. It could also make them upset, confused or defensive.

To help with giving others feedback, there are some basic tips – they might seem obvious, but do you do these things?

  • Where possible, plan the feedback, so you give it clearly and effectively
  • Be timely and at a good time – give feedback soon after the situation to ensure it is fresh in memory for the receiver; but balance this with an appropriate time – not when someone is upset or running for a meeting
  • Be specific and focus on behaviours and impact, preferably with examples – “When you did X, the effect was Y…”
  • Base feedback on observations, not assumptions – never assume what someone was thinking, feeling or trying to achieve
  • Make it relevant – will giving feedback help this person in their job or their interactions at work? If the only reason you are giving the feedback is because something they do annoys you, don’t give it!
  • Keep to the point and don’t dilute – don’t try to ‘soften the blow’ by over emphasising something they do well when giving developmental feedback. You can use other examples or situations to add perspective (e.g. “Your last three presentations were very clear and effective, however this one had less impact due to...”) but make sure the feedback is still clear

Spending some time thinking about how to provide feedback will definitely help you communicate more effectively and hopefully will allow the receiver to understand and use the information.

(next blog will outline a model for structuring your feedback…)

engagingPOTENTIAL: training, team development, coaching

Specialising in working with managers to develop extraordinary teams!

10 Sep

Feedback culture

“Ask for feedback from people with diverse backgrounds. Each one will tell you one useful thing.”    – Steve Jobs

Have you ever worked in an organisation with a feedback culture? Not sure?

If you had, you would know.

A company with a feedback culture is one that welcomes feedback as a method of learning and consequently as a way of investing in its people. Feedback has no hierarchy – it can be given up, down and sideways in the ‘chain of command’. These organisations provide an environment where reinforcement of things done well take equal precedent with feedback on developmental areas.

It is said that a company’s feedback culture is shaped by three categories of organisational practices (Feedback orientation, feedback culture and the longitudinal performance management process. Manuel London and James Smither):

  • Those that impact the quality of feedback   e.g. training on providing effective feedback
  • Those that emphasise the importance of feedback to the organisation   e.g. how managers lead by example in giving and receiving feedback
  • Those that support using the feedback   e.g. providing coaching to employees

A company with a feedback culture is one that is committed to its people, focussed on retaining talent and to creating a ‘learning organisation.’ Consequently these companies tend to have more productive and engaged employees, more honesty and less conflict, and an ability to adapt in times of change.

If there is no feedback culture, this can impact other aspects of organisational culture. Often employees are resistant to change, resentful of performance management practices, and in extreme cases can suffer from negativity and blame seeking.

To create a culture that welcomes feedback and uses it effectively, companies need to ensure that all employees are trained on giving and receiving feedback well and are coached to develop an understanding of the benefits of feedback. In addition, it is imperative that leaders are demonstrating effective feedback behaviours and promoting core values of trust and honesty.

So, does your organisation have a feedback culture? If not, what does it need to do to create one?

02 Sep

Receiving feedback

“All learning has an emotional base.”   – Plato

Have you ever received feedback that made you angry? Or embarrassed? Sad? Or even happy? (let’s not forget the good stuff!)

Receiving feedback usually triggers an emotion, no matter how ‘thick skinned’ or emotionally stable we might be. If we are emotionally intelligent and consider feedback as a chance to learn, then others may not see the emotion externally, however we still feel it.

An emotion felt about feedback is normal. IT’S OK!

Emotions kick-start the processing of feedback. Of course, not everyone can easily get past the emotion and make rational decisions about what they are hearing. But there are some things you can do to help you not get ‘stuck’ on the emotion.

  • Start with an open mind – feedback is an opportunity to learn. Even if you don’t agree with the comments, it’s a chance to understand one person’s perspective of your actions.
  • Listen actively – allow the other person time to speak and listen carefully and respectfully.
  • Be aware of your emotions – recognise that you are having an internal emotional response and manage it externally. If you are pleased with the feedback, don’t jump up and down or pump the air – a smile is fine, but don’t get too excited! If you are upset by the feedback, try concentrating on your breathing or clench your stomach muscles as a distraction (it works!).
  • Seek clarity – if anything is unclear, calmly ask questions for understanding “To help me understand, could you give me an example of what you are describing?”; “What did I do well?” (yes, clarity about good feedback is also important!); “Just so I am clear, I think this is what you are saying…?”
  • Say thankyou – whether the feedback is positive or constructive, or you agree with it or not, always say thank you – it shows respect for someone who has taken time to provide it and also may help you appear (and even feel) in control of your emotions.
  • Reflect – you may need some space to think about the feedback. It’s OK to say “I need time to process this – can I come back to you if we need to discuss this further?” Reflect on whether you think the feedback is honest, realistic and requiring action.

Remember, feedback is an opportunity to learn. Someone’s perception of you may not be the ‘truth’ of you, however it is still valuable information to consider.

engagingPOTENTIAL: training, team development, coaching

Specialising in working with managers to develop extraordinary teams!