Feedback is a dance, not a delivery

Delivering feedback can be an intimidating experience.

If this is your first time giving this person feedback, you may worry about what might happen.

Maybe they’ll take it harder than you intended for them to.

Maybe they’ll react poorly to the feedback.

And even if you have given this person feedback before, you may be afraid because of those past experiences.

Maybe the feedback went over their head, and they never heard what you were trying to tell them.

Maybe they immediately changed the topic because they felt uncomfortable.

Maybe they got defensive.

Maybe they launched a counterattack and delivered some critical feedback to you.

So how can you deliver feedback when you’re nervous about how it will land?

Remember that feedback is a dance, not a delivery.

Feedback isn’t usually something you can give to someone and then walk away. Sometimes, they will respond to your feedback. And if you want your feedback to land, you need to engage with them.

If you want them to be willing to hear you, it helps to show them that you’re on their side.

So before giving them feedback, think about these questions:

  • When they did this, what values were they upholding?
  • When they did this, what goals were they pursuing?
  • When they did this, what challenges were they facing?
  • In your experience of this person, what is important to them when they’re at their best?

Keep these ideas front of mind as you deliver the feedback. They may help you demonstrate that you’re an ally trying to help.

How might these play into a feedback conversation? Here’s an example:

Sam: Taylor, do you mind if I share something with you that’s been on my mind?

Taylor: Yeah, sure. What’s up?

Sam: Last week, you told me you’d pick me up at 5 pm to go to Jo’s birthday party, but you didn’t arrive until 6 pm. While I waited for you, I thought it was a waste of my time and that you didn’t respect me.

Taylor: I already told you I was late because Jo asked me to pick up some stuff on the way.

(Hearing Taylor’s response, Sam hypothesizes they might be getting defensive.)

Sam: Yes, I know you care a lot about your friends. That’s why you agreed to help Jo out, and it’s also why you offered to give me a ride to the party.

Taylor: That’s right. You’re both really important friends.

(Sam thinks Taylor sees them on the same side again and continues delivering the feedback.)

Sam: I get that. But I felt frustrated when you were late last week because I had a paper due that week that I could have worked on for an extra hour, but instead, I was scrolling on Instagram as I was waiting for you in my lobby.

Taylor: I didn’t know you had a paper due. You could have gone upstairs to work on it while you waited. I didn’t know the store would take so long to get Jo’s stuff together.

(Sam can sense the disconnection starting again.)

Sam: Right. I know it wasn’t your fault that the store took so long. You wouldn’t intentionally waste time. I’m not saying that at all. I get that you were doing your best to be helpful.

(Taylor nods.)

Sam: I’m just hoping that if something unexpected happens in the future, you could text me to let me know so I can do something else while I wait. How does that sound to you?

Taylor: I can try to do that next time. And I’m sorry for being late last week.

Continually maintaining connection during the feedback conversation increases the chances that the other person will be receptive to what you have to say.

Feedback is a dance, not a delivery.

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