Management expert Ken Blanchard coined the phrase, “Feedback is the breakfast of champions,” for good reason. Feedback is a two-way street. We all need it, yet your delivery can make or break a relationship.
When under pressure, most people tend to lack the confidence and competence to interact with one another. Feedback may be difficult to hear and to accept, but it is extraordinarily helpful in breaking the cycle of complaints, feelings of victimization, and assignment of blame to others.
Handling change and communication are two critical areas to master in any work setting, and both provide more than ample opportunity for feedback.
Here are some pointers to keep in mind next time you want to connect with someone — even your boss — over a potentially sensitive topic:
1. Ask for permission first.
It is a good idea to ask for consent to offer an opinion, advice or comment — regardless of with whom you are speaking. It’s the respectful thing to do. For instance, you could say, “Would you be willing to hear a different perspective? Could I offer my view point?” Depending on your relationship and rapport, this step may not always be required. If it is a more formal relationship, for instance when providing feedback to your boss, it’s a perfect way to open the lines of communication.
2. Remain optimistic and mind your “buts.”
Make sure your comments are balanced to avoid seriously offending anyone. Provide constructive guidance and be mindful of connecting a positive statement followed by the word “but.” Using the example of speaking to your boss, avoid saying, “I enjoy working with you but I feel my work is not always valued.” Instead, try “I enjoy working with you. Sometimes I feel my work is not valued, and at times I get the impression that you are not open to my ideas. I feel if you shared my input on projects with the team, it would benefit both of us.”
4. Add value.
Ask yourself how your feedback, criticism or opinion will genuinely help the person. Do you want to change the way this person does something? Say, a particular activity or process? Be sure to back up your statements and explain how your new way of doing things will benefit them, solve a problem or, if it is a work situation, improve productivity.
5. Own your opinion.
Present your comments from the “I” perspective rather than the “you” perspective. Use statements such as, “I notice this…” or “I am impacted when…” instead of “you never do this….” or “you always make me feel that…” Words like “always” and “never” sound accusatory and often put people on the defensive. Make sure you are as explicit as possible about the situation and try not to obscure it with previous difficulties by bringing up the past.
6. Plan and rehearse.
Practice what you want to say with a trusted friend or colleague. If you take the time to think it through carefully, the outcome will more likely be in your favor. Also, consider the timing of your approach. Keep in mind the other person’s personal commitments and immediate deadlines.
7. Say it face-to-face.
New research asserts that a face-to face-request is 34 times more likely to be successful than one done via email. Both positive and negative responses should be communicated face-to-face, for maximum impact. When meeting in person, be aware of your body language and keep your tone of voice calm and respectful. Finger pointing and crossed arms are not going to relay a productive message. If you are unable to meet in person to discuss the issue, try connecting via Skype or phone, at the very least. Email and text messages can easily be misunderstood and should be avoided when providing significant feedback.
8. Commit to keeping an open mind.
Prepare to listen to — and willingly receive — the other person’s viewpoint. Remain open to the possibility that you may have contributed to the current circumstances and accept that the situation is a shared learning opportunity. Practice mindful listening. If your approach is respectful and authentic, more often than not, you’ll both walk away from the situation learning something new about each other, thereby enriching your relationship.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.