Have you ever been frustrated by someone who was given feedback, agreed to change and then just carried on with their old behaviour? This is a situation which occurs all too often. Yes, it is frustrating to find that your feedback message hasn’t been actioned. But before you dismiss the person who received your feedback, think about whether you did everything possible to deliver a clear feedback message. Here are some things to consider.
1. Check that your message was clear
Giving feedback isn’t easy, because no-one wants to hurt another person’s feelings. Because of this, many people water down their performance feedback messages. This action is well intended. But it can lead to confusion. In fact, if you dilute your message too much, the other person might not even realise you have been giving them feedback. Here are some examples of feedback messages which are so nice they lose their meaning:
- Have you ever thought of _______?
- It would be good if ____________
- You might need to change ______________
- Sally always ______________
Before deciding that someone is a ‘difficult person’ and has ignored your feedback, reflect on whether you sent a vague or confusing message. Then get ready to repeat your feedback with clarity and assertiveness. That’s how to give feedback in a way which makes sense to the recipient.
2. Meet and repeat
If your feedback didn’t get through the first time, it’s time to repeat it. Set up a meeting with the seemingly difficult person. This time, focus on sending a clear, unambiguous feedback message. Make sure you include a:
- Clear description of what the other person is currently saying or doing
- Rationale for why that behaviour needs to change
- Explanation of what the other person can do differently
For example ‘This week you’ve arrived fifteen minutes late for each of your shifts on the service desk. This meant your colleagues had to continue staffing the desk, when they were rostered to other tasks. How can you make sure you start your shifts punctually in future?’
3. Seek a ‘yes’ response
Remember that your message hasn’t been successfully delivered until it has been acknowledged. Don’t go any further until the other person has verbally agreed that change is needed. To draw out this agreement, use a commitment question such as:
- Do you agree that this needs to change?
- I believe you can benefit from changing…What do you think?
- What do you think the issue is?
4. Collaborate on an action plan
In the final stage of giving follow-up feedback, it’s time to make the other person accountable for change. Ask them for their ideas on what they can do differently now feedback has been given. If you need to offer advice, frame it as a suggestion and then ask what they think. Make sure you draw out a clear action plan, which describes the specific steps the other person is going to take. Then offer your support in helping them change. End by setting a date to review their progress and help them overcome any barriers to action.
If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again. This statement is very apt in the case of giving feedback. If your message doesn’t get through the first time, send it again. Don’t nag. Simply raise the issue a second time and talk it through with the other person. If you’re dealing with a very difficult person, you might benefit from coaching in the micro skills of giving feedback. Eleanor Shakiba is an experienced communication skills coach. View your coaching options here.