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How to Give Constructive Feedback and Avoid Ugly Confrontations

How to Give Constructive Feedback and Avoid Ugly Confrontations

“You’ve been doing a fantastic job, but, there’s just one thing….”

Many of us dread these words and what follows next. It’s only natural to feel this way because giving and/or receiving criticism can be daunting. Feedback has the potential to either encourage people to do better or totally demoralize them, so it’s important that you remain calm and optimistic when giving or receiving it.

According to a research paper published in The Journal of Consumer Research titled “Tell Me What I did Wrong: Experts Seek and Respond to Negative Feedback,” many people often forget the purpose of feedback. It’s not meant to make people feel bad, but rather to help people DO better. Negative feedback is not always bad, and positive feedback is not always good.

If you want to encourage people to do better and become the best they can be, you need to learn how to give constructive evaluations. Encouraging others also helps you achieve more in your own personal and business life. Here are some handy tips you can use to give more constructive feedback and encourage others instead of demoralizing them.

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1.   Remind yourself why you are giving feedback

Before you approach someone to give an evaluation, remind yourself why you are doing it. You goal is to help others improve performance or a situation. If you are rushed, overly critical, or unsure of yourself, you won’t accomplish your purpose.

Step back and analyze your reasons for wanting to give feedback. Build up a positive outlook and positive approach that is focused on improvement: this is important because a positive approach often gets more from people.

You don’t always have to be positive, though; a little negativity and controlled anger can be useful when used sparingly, especially when people are not paying sufficient attention to what you are saying.

2.   Create a comfortable environment to talk

According to neuroscientist Kevin Ochsner from Columbia University, who was citing research done at the university, people who receive feedback apply it only about 30% of the time. If the person you are talking to doesn’t feel comfortable, the effectiveness of your communication drops and ultimately becomes unproductive.

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Find somewhere safe to talk where you won’t be overheard or interrupted. Start the talk with something positive and then move on to an open, objective assessment. Help the other person “see” where there is a need for improvement and offer practical solutions to bring about desired change.

3.   Observe time

Feedback is not about surprising people or getting people off guard; it’s about telling people what they need to hear when they are most likely expecting to hear it. The effectiveness of your communication increases when it is given closer to the time the event or issue being addressed happened.

Congratulate people for a job well done as soon as the job is done. In the same way, address issues of none performance sooner rather than later. Don’t wait a whole year for problems to pile up before you address them—it’s easier for everyone involved when feedback is given in a timely manner.

The exception to this rule is if the situation in question is highly emotional. Wait for everyone to calm down first before you approach them for a candid talk, thus avoiding potentially ugly confrontations with people.

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4.   Focus on one specific issue

People generally respond better to an evaluation or performance appraisal when it is focused directly on a specific issue and delivered with a positive slant. Avoid discussing more than two issues in a single appraisal session, because doing so risks the other person feeling attacked. Focus more on one (or at most, two) priority issues that you want improved on first.

Say something like: “You’re smart. I want you to give at least one opinion in every brainstorming meeting we’re in together.” instead of “You should talk more in our meetings.” The former statement is more focused, addresses a specific issue directly and offers a solution, while the latter communication is ambiguous and opens many avenues for misinterpretation.

5.   Be tough, but not mean

Feedback will fall flat if you are unreasonable, mean-spirited and/or offensive. State your expectations clearly, firmly and civilly with a view to achieve positive change. Give not-so-positive appraisal in a private conversation to avoid making people look foolish or feel embarrassed in front of others.

Just be considerate and stick to discussing behavior that people can actually change. People generally appreciate public recognition of positive contributions, but will often take it hard if you criticize them for under-performance in public.

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6.   Follow up

Follow up on the progress of what was talked about in performance evaluations. Acknowledge people’s efforts to improve, and reward them when possible to reinforce positive effort and encourage improved performance.

Remember that people tend to become what you encourage them to be, not what you nag them to be, so don’t nag them with the excuse that you are following up. Be reasonable, and you will increase the effectiveness of your communications.

More by this author

David K. William

David is a publisher and entrepreneur who tries to help professionals grow their business and careers, and gives advice for entrepreneurs.

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Last Updated on April 6, 2020

10 Powerful Ways to Influence People Positively

10 Powerful Ways to Influence People Positively

Most discussions on positively influencing others eventually touch on Dale Carnegie’s seminal work, How to Win Friends and Influence People. Written more than 83 years ago, the book touches on a core component of human interaction, building strong relationships. It is no wonder why.

Everything that we do hinges on our ability to connect with others and formulate deep relationships. You cannot sell a house, buy a house, advance in most careers, sell a product, pitch a story, teach a course, etc. without building healthy relationships. Managers get the best results from their teams, not through brute force, but to careful appeals to their sensibilities, occasional withdrawals from the reservoir of respect they’ve built. Using these tactics, they can influence others to excellence, to productivity, and to success.

Carnegie’s book is great. Of course, there are other resources too. Most of us have someone in our lives who positively influences us. The truth is positively influencing people is about centering the humanity of others. Chances are, you know someone who is really good at making others feel like stars. They can get you to do things that the average person cannot. Where the requests of others sound like fingernails on a chalkboard, the request from this special person sounds like music to your ears. You’re delighted to not only listen but also to oblige.

So how to influence people in a positive way? Read on for tips.

1. Be Authentic

To influence people in a positive way, be authentic. Rather than being a carbon copy of someone else’s version of authenticity, uncover what it is that makes you unique.

Discover your unique take on an issue and then live up to and honor that. Once of the reasons social media influencers are so powerful is that they have carved out a niche for themselves or taken a common issue and approached it from a novel or uncommon way. People instinctually appreciate people whose public persona matches their private values.

Contradictions bother us because we crave stability. When someone professes to be one way, but lives contrary to that profession, it signals that they are confused or untrustworthy and thereby, inauthentic. Neither of these combinations bode well for positively influencing others.

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2. Listen

Growing up, my father would tell me to listen to what others said. He told me if I listened carefully, I would know all I needed to know about a person’s character, desires and needs.

To positively influence others, you must listen to what is spoken and what is left unsaid. Therein lies the explanation for what people need in order to feel validated, supported and seen. If a person feels they are invisible, and unseen by their superiors, they are less likely to be positively influenced by that person.

Listening meets a person’s primary need of validation and acceptance.

Take a look at this guide on how to be a better listener: How to Practice Active Listening (A Step-By-Step Guide)

3. Become an Expert

Most people are predisposed to listen to, if not respect, authority. If you want to positively influence others, become an authority in the area in which you seek to lead others. Research and read everything you can about the given topic, and then look for opportunities to put your education into practice.

You can argue over opinions. You cannot argue, or it is unwise to argue, over facts and experts come with facts.

4. Lead with Story

From years of working in the public relations space, I know that personal narratives, testimonials and impact stories are incredibly powerful. But I never cease to be amazed with how effective a well-timed and told story can be.

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If you want to influence people, learn to tell stories. Your stories should be related to the issue or concept you are discussing. They should be an analogy or metaphor that explains your topic in ordinary terms and in vivid detail. To learn more about how to tell powerful stories, and the ethics of storytelling, take a look at this article: How To Tell An Interesting Story In 4 Simple Steps

5. Lead by Example

It is incredibly inspiring to watch passionate, talented people at work or play. One of the reasons a person who is not an athlete can be in awe of athletic prowess is because human nature appreciates the extraordinary. When we watch the Olympics, Olympic trials, gymnastic competitions, ice skating, and other competitive sports, we can recognize the effort of people who day in and day out give their all. C

ase in point: Simone Biles. The gymnast extraordinaire won her 6TH all-around title at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships after doing a triple double. She was the first woman to do so. Watching her gave me chills. Even non-gymnasts and non-competitive athletes can appreciate the talent required to pull off such a remarkable feat.

We celebrate remarkable accomplishments and believe that their example is proof that we too can accomplish something great, even if it isn’t qualifying for the Olympics. To influence people in a positive way, we must lead by example, lead with intention and execute with excellence.

6. Catch People Doing Good

A powerful way to influence people in a positive way is to catch people doing good. Instead of looking for problems, look for successes. Look for often overlooked, but critically important things that your peers, subordinates and managers do that make the work more effective and more enjoyable.

Once you catch people doing good, name and notice their contributions.

7. Be Effusive with Praise

It did not take me long to notice a remarkable trait of a former boss. He not only began and ended meetings with praise, but he peppered praise throughout the entire meeting. He found a way to celebrate the unique attributes and skills of his team members. He was able to quickly and accurately assess what people were doing well and then let them and their colleagues know.

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Meetings were not just an occasion to go through a “To Do” list, they were opportunities to celebrate accomplishments, no matter how small they are.

8. Be Kind Rather Than Right

I am going to level with you; this one is tough. It is easy to get caught up in a cycle of proving oneself. For people who lack confidence, or people who prioritize the opinions of others, being right is important. The validation that comes with being perceived as “right” feeds one’s ego. But in the quest to be “right,” we can hurt other people. Once we’ve hurt someone by being unkind, it is much harder to get them to listen to what we’re trying to influence them to do.

The antidote to influencing others via bullying is to prioritize kindness above rightness. You can be kind and still stand firm in your position. For instance, many people think that they need others to validate their experience. If a person does not see the situation you experienced in the way you see it, you get upset. But your experience is your experience.

If you and your friends go out to eat and you get food poisoning, you do not need your friends to agree that the food served at the restaurant was problematic for you. Your own experience of getting food poisoning is all the validation you need. Therefore, taking time to be right is essentially wasted and, if you were unkind in seeking validation for your food-poison experience, now you’ve really lost points.

9. Understand a Person’s Logical, Emotional and Cooperative Needs

The Center for Creative Leadership has argued that the best way to influence others is to appeal to their logical, emotional and cooperative needs. Their logical need is their rational and educational need. Their emotional need is the information that touches them in a deeply personal manner. The cooperative need is understanding the level of cooperation various individuals need and then appropriately offering it.

The trick with this system is to understand that different people need different things. For some people, a strong emotional appeal will outweigh logical explanations. For others, having an opportunity to collaborate will override emotional connection.

If you know your audience, you will know what they need in order to be positively influenced. If you have limited information about the people whom you are attempting to influence, you will be ineffective.

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10. Understand Your Lane

If you want to positively influence others, operate from your sphere of influence. Operate from your place of expertise. Leave everything else to others. Gone are the days when being a jack of all trades is celebrated.

Most people appreciate brands that understand their target audience and then deliver on what that audience wants. When you focus on what you are uniquely gifted and qualified to do, and then offer that gift to the people who need it, you are likely more effective. This effectiveness is attractive.

You cannot positively influence others if you are more preoccupied by what others do well versus what you do well.

Final Thoughts

Influencing people is about centering your humanity. If you want to influence others positively, focus on the way you communicate and improve the relationship with yourself first.

It’s hard to influence others if you’re still trying to figure out how to communicate with yourself.

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Featured photo credit: Wonderlane via unsplash.com

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