The one with the well intentioned gut punch

“Feedback is the key to giving employees a sense of where they’re going, but many organizations are remarkably bad at giving it.” That quote is from Hay Group’s ‘Engage Employees and Boost Performance’ and from my perspective it’s one of the elements of Employee Engagement that gets most overlooked.

Let’s face it giving positive feedback is easy. It’s more recognition than performance management and taking the time to tell someone they’ve done something well is usually rewarding for both parties.

Giving constructive feedback is much harder and I can recall times in my career that my nervousness around giving the feedback has lead to me delivering only half the message and in such a way that the other person wouldn’t have been clear as to what I was really saying. Basically, I was trying to avoid any form of emotional reaction and therefore couched the message so successfully that there was likely no message at all.

A few years ago I attended a facilitation skills workshop and one of the models introduced to me was Heron’s model for intervention. One of the interventions it describes is the ‘Confronting’ intervention and one of the course leaders described it as something that will impact the person in the gut and not the brain.

Now the problem with impacting someone in the proverbial gut is their reaction is far less likely to be rational and reasoned and is far more likely to be driven by their emotions. The downside of this is managing the impact, the potential upside is really helping someone understand performance issues that the standard, repeated constructive conversations have failed to do.

Having experimented with this on several occasions it has worked well and not so well. In reflecting I realise that the ones that have gone well usually include a lot of thought prior to the conversation including understanding potential reactions, a clear contracting part of the conversation (helps if they know what’s coming) and being very mindful of the language I used. The other thing I’ve learnt is that sometimes a reaction is inevitable given the nature of the conversation but to be comfortable to let it happen and follow it up has often had the best results (but not always!)

The challenge in discussing something like this is any example would involve divulging someone’s private information or sharing a superficial example that really didn’t illustrate it. This was bouncing around my head on the tube the other day when I realised there’s a great example (which ends with a profanity – be warned):


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