Lately I have been chatting to a few people who are needing to have a difficult conversation with either a teacher at their child's school or someone they work with. I am always interested in how much they have to hype themselves up in order to have these conversations.
Have you ever had to hype yourself up to give someone feedback and then you still don't see the change you asked for? How do you give feedback that results in positive change when the person you’re talking to gets defensive?
Part of staying on top of the feedback loop is instituting consequences if things don’t change. If performance is sub-optimal and continues to fall below standards, then consequences could include a demotion, taking away of responsibilities or even losing a job. If it is about your child, then let the school know you might remove your child or even take the matter higher.
These consequences are something you should work out before you share the feedback, so you can share the consequences, as well as the feedback. There are a few things you could think about to ensure you get the most out of a feedback conversation:
If the person has been working or behaving one way for a while without getting any feedback from you, then they might have taken your silence as approval. Recognise that the longer you let something sit, the harder it can be for the person to accept, which may lead to defensiveness when the issue is raised. The more frequently you check in, the faster you can point out corrections, giving the person smaller changes to make that are less likely to cause a stir.
Time to improve
If you wait too long to give difficult feedback, you may have already resigned yourself to this being an incurable situation, and the person, though it’s the first time they are hearing this, may sense you’ve already given up. Make sure you give feedback early enough for results to get back on track, but also early enough in your relationship with the person that you haven’t given up on them and they know that.
Support to improve
Another cause for defensiveness is confusion. Maybe the person does accept that there needs to be a change but doesn’t know how to make that change. You might need to provide more direction instead of just sharing the end result of what you need.
Defensiveness could also just be an initial reaction but, with time, a more constructive dialogue could ensue. Therefore, if you are met with pushback on your feedback and suggestions, suggest that you take a break and meet later in the day or even the next day to brainstorm suggestions for moving forward, making the person part of the solution. People are less likely to get defensive about their own ideas!
It is also imperative that you ensure you follow through with any support, resources or requests you made during conversations. You need to stay on top of the changes and requests you have asked for to ensure that people act on your feedback. While it is important to continue to identify problems and illuminate weaknesses, remember to also provide honest praise when things go well, recognise effort, and thank others for contributions. If you can make this change, you will notice a positive difference in yourself and in others.