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The First Critical Step to Leadership Coaching: Effectively Providing Feedback

by Thuy Sindell, PhD. and Milo Sindell, MS.
Published on June 11, 2018

As the awareness and application of leadership coaching grow, so does the use of giving and receiving feedback. Giving feedback is a critical manager and leadership skill that when done correctly is an important building block of developing employees. However, there is a tremendous risk of damaging employee productivity, sense of self, and engagement when feedback is not delivered correctly.

Getting feedback is an opportunity to learn about what you are doing well and what opportunities there are for growth. In turn, giving feedback is a manager’s chance to share with their employees what they are doing well and opportunities for improvement.

However, as great as the idea of these conversations is, and despite the fact that employees need and want feedback, sometimes, constructive criticism can be hard to digest. That is why it’s important for managers to be able to provide feedback in a way that employees can hear and digest the information.

When effectively presented, quality feedback is seen as an opportunity to grow and build upon an already strong foundation. If poorly presented, that same feedback can damage egos, impact productivity, and potentially reduce employee engagement.

Chances are, even when you effectively deliver feedback that requires someone to change, they’re going to resist at first. This is perfectly natural. However, it doesn’t make the feedback any less important. It just takes time for people to process information so they can adapt accordingly.

Since this process can’t be rushed, managers need to know how to back up and let things progress on their own. But to do this, it’s important to know what each step of accepting feedback looks like and what’s required of employees at that time.

Here are the four phases employees go through and what leaders can do to help them through the process:


How employees behave
At this stage, employees feel blindsided or simply surprised by the feedback. They were viewing the situation differently and therefore don’t see that they — or anyone else — did anything wrong. Given this fact, they won’t believe the observation or data is true or accurate.

How to respond
Don’t try to argue. Let them take this time to vent out their frustrations about the change they’re facing. They need time to process their negative feelings about the feedback. The way they work as a person is evolving and it’s not easy to follow suit if they’re unprepared.

However, if they see that you’re willing to listen to them, when they come around to the idea of change, they’ll see you as an ally.


How employees behave
Once an employee has moved past denial, they’ll accept that there’s an issue, but be unwilling to accept the solution. They’ll offer excuses about their actions or decry that the change isn’t necessary. They may even suggest an alternate plan that they feel more comfortable with.

How to respond
Take in everything they have to say. Listen and ask questions about their objections. Don’t go on the defensive, but instead be genuinely curious about the thought process behind their hesitation. Allowing an employee to talk through why they dislike a suggested change can help them see exactly why it’s necessary.


How employees behave
This is when the long-term picture becomes clear to the individual. They begin to see how adjusting can be beneficial, but they still need more details. They’ll ask a lot of questions during this stage, which is good. It will shed light on their concerns for both of you.

How to respond
Show the employee how they can benefit from the change. Let them know how accepting feedback will help them improve as a professional. Explain exactly how it will help them take the next step in their career and be useful in the future.


How employees behave
At this point, an employee is ready to change. But they might not know how to effectively learn from the feedback. Not knowing what to do next can leave them feeling scared or nervous. This is when they’ll be looking for your [leadership](managers-important-trends-you-and-your-leaders-need-to-know- about).

How to respond
Provide the employee with a plan. Break things down into small actionable steps that won’t overwhelm them. Give them goals and targets that build upon each other and result in measurable change. This way they can see their progress and the benefits of accepting feedback.

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