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The Secret Weapon to Productive Performance Feedback

Almost predominantly, my clients ask me questions related to communication within their organization.

Communication problems are, after all, responsible for 70% of organizational errors.

“Why is communication with my employees so hard?!”

“Why is communication among my leadership team so taxing?”

Well, people are intricate. People are really cool and inspiring. We watch people do amazing things for one another and together daily. And people are also hard and weird (that includes you😉).

Giving an employee feedback is one area in which communication can fall apart quickly. A number of Elephants can swiftly enter the room like they just jumped out of a circus-car and the line up looks something like this: “defensiveness,” “worry,” “confusion,” “shame,” “powerlessness,” “resentment,” and “inadequacy.”

Having productive performance feedback conversations is complex, but it does not have to be complicated.

Here is one place to start…

Asking permission.

I have mentioned many times before that you cannot approach every employee the same way and expect them all to respond the same. Everyone comes with their own perspectives and related opinions/emotions. But asking permission is a universal tool in effective communication. Use this one with anybody.

This tool is often used when giving a contrary opinion or approaching conflict (two things that can come up during performance feedback). The primary reason you want to ask permission is so that the other person can be in a place where they are open to receiving what you have to say. Otherwise your point or the potential impact is moot.

This is what it might look like:

  1. Conflict: “I received some feedback about you from one of our clients. I’d like to give it to you now, ok?” This gives the other person an opportunity to invite the feedback, or ask if they can receive it later.
  2. Contrary opinion: “I have a suggestion for how XYZ can be done differently next time, may I share it with you?” Sometimes this looks like giving advice and if you provide this unsolicited the other person may become defensive or feel belittled.

This communication tool is not meant to coddle anyone. And it is not meant to force you to manage the other persons emotions. It is simply meant to treat the other person with equal respect human to human.

We all naturally place a high level of value on our autonomy (to govern ourselves). If we attempt to force someone into a conversation (especially one where emotions can run high), they will often respond with resistance (even if we have good intentions or their best interest in mind).

Asking permission allows room for autonomy, which shows respect, creating a feeling of assurance, and leads the other person to be more open-minded.

It helps you mitigate issues before they are problems. You get the opportunity to avoid misunderstanding, assumptions, and unproductive dynamics (that can all lead to costs in time + energy = money).


Do you mind if I ask you a question?


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