A simple structure to share difficult feedback

Laptop showing be kind on the screen
I think we’ve all been in a position where we’ve had to share difficult feedback with a colleague.
I don’t know about you, but it was something I used to avoid. I don’t like confrontation, I don’t want to hurt others feelings and I was scared of how to deal with the other person becoming angry.
But the more senior you get in your career, the harder it is to avoid, and so I want to share with you a coaching technique that has helped me enormously go from avoiding to helping.
It’s called asking permission. I’m not going to lie, it sounds weird when you first learn about it, it’s weirder saying it out loud but it works.
Let me demonstrate:
“ I want to talk to you about something that I think is holding you back from being promoted. It’s not going to be easy to hear and I want you to know that I’ll support you in any way I can. Do you want to hear it?”
Let’s break this down
I want to talk to you about something that I think is holding you back from being promoted.
If you want to share difficult feedback with someone you need to know what their drivers and motivations are, otherwise it won’t resonate and you risk it being ignored or ruminated over to the point where people fear making any change. If you don’t know how the information you have will help them reach their aspirations then don’t give it, the feedback is more about you than them.
It’s not going to be easy to hear
This signals that you understand the feedback is difficult and prepares the other person for it. I often also share how hard it is for me to share it, often saying if it were me I’d want them to tell me. Being able to share difficult feedback also comes down to the relationship you have with the other person. If I trust and respect you I’m more likely to take the feedback positively.
I want you to know that I’ll support you in any way I can
This is where you build trust and respect, If you have no intention of helping the person address the feedback then don’t give it. You don’t do anyone any favours by dropping a feedback bomb and running.
Do you want to hear it?
By asking permission you are giving control of the conversation to the other person. Often feedback is done to you whether you want it or not, by asking permission you signal that this is a joint endeavour and they have a choice. In all my years of using this technique I think I’ve only had a couple of times where someone said no and if they do you can say Ok, when you’re ready let me know.
The next step is to give the feedback with no padding, making excuses, explaining it away or as a one off. As Brene Brown says, clear is kind, unclear is unkind.
Once you’ve given the feedback ask them what their thoughts are. Don’t give advice or try to offer a solution, give them the space to react and think it through themselves. This handy guide might help you to use some simple coaching techniques to develop the conversation further.
Let me know if you have any questions, [email protected]

My thinking for this article was influenced by the design of coaching skills workshops I’m designing for leaders who want a simple way into having coaching conversations. Drop me  line if you’d like to find out more.

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