Tips On Giving Challenging Feedback

How good are you at giving challenging feedback so that the other person hears you and takes action? 

In this episode I share 6 tips on how to give difficult feedback.

Time Stamp

[01:20] We all have to give difficult feedback at some point or another

[02:05] Types of feedback you might have to give

[02:35] Never sugar coat your feedback if you want to be heard

[03:30] When should you give feedback?

[05:40] 6 tips / things to consider when giving challenging feedback

[09:14] Why you must consider where the other person is at: how receptive are they to receiving the feedback?


“If you want to be heard, then never sugar coat feedback or use the sh*t sandwich approach!” - Rob Da Costa
“You always need to have 2 pieces of evidence when giving challenging feedback.” - Rob Da Costa

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 Full Episode Transcription

How often do you consider where the other person is when you are giving difficult feedback? It's one of the skills that we all need to have as managers. Now, we need to give difficult feedback, obviously to team members. But it also might be a supplier. It might even be a customer, and it certainly would be remote workers or freelancers that you work with. So, this episode will be applicable to you. And I want to spend some time just digging into a way to give feedback so the other person hears you and therefore they take action and you can start overcoming the problem that has caused you to give the feedback in the first place.

So that's what we're going to dig into in today's podcast episode. I'm going to share with you six tips on how to give difficult feedback. I also want to spend some time talking about understanding where the other person is and also discuss how close to the particular situation should you give feedback. So, lots to cover today and let's get started. I'm Rob Da Costa, and this is The Agency Accelerator podcast. As someone who has stood in your shoes having started, grown, and sold my own agency, I know just how it feels in the ups and downs of agency life.

So this podcast aims to ease your journey just a little, by sharing my and my guests’ experiences and advice as you navigate your way to growing a profitable, sustainable and enjoyable business.

At some time or another, you are going to have to give challenging and difficult feedback to someone in your team. Even if you're a freelancer, you might be working with other team members. You might have supplies. You might have customers, so we all have to give difficult feedback at some time or another. And there's a real art form to this, and I actually don't think many people consider this before they give their feedback.

Instead, they are really frustrated. They want to share that frustration with their team member. So they grab them, put them in a room, give them the feedback, and then they wonder why it’s received like a wet blanket. Or it feels like they are talking to a brick wall. So, I want to dig into this today because it's a topic. I spent some of my time advising my clients on both my private clients and my group coaching clients. So I wanted to share some thoughts with you as well.

Let's start off by talking about some of the kinds of feedback you might want to give and how close to a situation should you give that feedback. So, first of all, we want to make sure that we are giving balanced feedback, which means we give positive feedback as well as negative feedback. We don't want to be someone that just assumes someone will know they've done a good job, so we never give them positive feedback. But we only give them feedback when we're frustrated with them. So get that balance right.

However, don't ever give negative feedback in a sandwich kind of way. Sorry for my French, but some people think the way to give feedback is I'm going to sugarcoat it. So I'm gonna give you a positive piece of feedback followed by the real negative feedback I want to give and then end it with positive feedback. So you might say something like, “I really appreciate how hard you work.” That's a positive bear. But I'm really disappointed with the report that you wrote but thanks for staying late to get it done.

That's a silly example. But you can see how book-ending negative feedback, which is the thing you really wanted to share with positive feedback, isn't going to work. And indeed, the recipient is only going to focus on the positive feedback, which is thanks for staying late and working really hard, even though the result of what they produced wasn't good enough. So, don't use that approach to be very clear with one piece of feedback that you want to give. Now, I'm going to focus this episode on giving constructive but negative feedback because that's, I think, where you're going to find it really beneficial.

So the first question really is, “When should I do it?” And there is an art to this because, first of all, you don't want to do it so close to the moment that you are going to really share your frustration with the person and therefore not deliver it very well. However, you don't want to do it so far away from the moment that all the energy has dissipated and the recipient ends up thinking well, I don't really know what you're talking about. So get that right. You need to make sure you've calmed yourself down and you have thought carefully about what you want to say.

But then you want to give that feedback as close to the event as you possibly can, and if you do it in a constructive way, you have to do it in the spirit that they're going to learn something and they're going to do something better. So if you feel like you need to protect your team from, for example, a client who is angry with a piece of work they've done, then you're not only doing yourself a disservice because all the way it's going to end up on your shoulder.

But you're also doing the team member a disservice because there's never going to be any learning, and therefore they're going to keep making the same kind of mistakes or taking the same approach that they've always taken, even though that frustrates the client. So, just bear in mind that it's genuinely best to give feedback as soon as possible after a particular situation occurs. While the event is still fresh both in your mind and in the team member's mind, this allows the team member to better understand the impact of their actions and gives them an opportunity to make any necessary changes in a timely manner.

However, it's also important to give yourself time to process the situation and gather any necessary information before you give your feedback. If you're too close to the situation, you may not be able to provide constructive feedback in a levelheaded manner because, as I said, you might be really frustrated and share that frustration with them. So, it's okay to take some time to think about the situation and plan out what you want to say before having the conversation. Ultimately, the timing of the feedback will depend on the specific situation and the needs of the team member.

So, it's important to strike a balance between giving feedback in a timely manner so that people are kind of understanding and there's a bit of energy connected to the situation, whilst also ensuring that you're able to provide thoughtful and constructive feedback. So now I want to share with you six tips or six things to consider when you are planning to give some challenging feedback. And the first tip is to make sure that you have planned ahead. So, you want to spend some time considering what you want to say and how you want to say it.

And you also want to gather any evidence. And the key here is to have two pieces of evidence. Because if you only have one, for example, a piece of feedback from a client, they may well brush that aside and say, “Oh, that was just a one-off situation.” Wherever you have two pieces of feedback, if possible, then you are going to be heard because they can't brush it aside. So that's my first tip, which is to plan ahead. And this is also going to help you be more concise and considerate in the feedback that you give. 

The second point, which is an obvious point, but you'll be surprised how many people miss this, is that when you give feedback, you need to choose a private setting to do it. So, it's important to have a private, respectful conversation when you're giving difficult feedback. So the team member feels comfortable and free to ask any questions and express their thought doing it in the heat of the moment across the office is not a good idea. All you're gonna do is humiliate the team member and show yourself up as not a very thoughtful leader.

So tip number three is to focus on their behaviour and not the person. You want to make it as impersonal as possible. So when giving feedback, try and focus on the specific actions or behaviours rather than attacking the person's character or intentions. So again, you want to really consider the things they've done and use the evidence to support that point. 

Tip number four is to not make it personal. So, rather than saying, “I'm really frustrated that you keep doing this wrong,” you want to talk about what the business needs or how the client feels. So using third-person language rather than first-person language can definitely remove the heat and the emotion from the conversation. And this ties back to tip number one really, which is to plan ahead and to consider what and how you want to say the feedback.

So just think about what the business needs, what your team needs, what the client needs and how their behaviour needs to change to suit the needs of the business and the client. Tip number five is to offer suggestions for improvement. So, in addition to pointing out the areas of concern, try and offer suggestions on how the team member can improve for the future or ask them to come up with some suggestions of how they believe. If you can come up with these ideas in a collaborative way, they are much more likely to own it and make those improvements than if you just dictate to them what they need to do.

So you might well want to consider some of the things that you want them to do, but actually, try to elicit those things from them because they're much more likely to own it and make those changes. And tip number six is to follow up. So after giving difficult feedback, it's important to follow up and see how the team members are doing and check in with them. Are they implementing the goals and the outcomes that you discussed in the feedback session? And, are there any issues that need to be addressed as a team member, feel supported, and so on?

So, you know, listening to those six points you realise, actually giving feedback is much more–much more sophisticated than just having a rent at someone, getting it off your chest, feeling better yourself for 10 minutes. But it absolutely makes no difference. So, just take those six ideas and consider them when you're planning to make sure that you are not only articulating your frustrations and the feedback very clearly, but they are actually hearing it as well, and therefore they're going to take action. And on that note, the last part of this conversation is to consider where the other person is at because let's face it, if they are open and they understand the issue and they are willing to move forward, then you're going to have one kind of conversation where you can set some goals and follow up as we've talked about. 

However, if they've got very negative body language, their arms are folded, and they're not making eye contact–then there's a good chance whatever you say is going to be hitting a brick wall. They may be very resistant or they might be in denial about the situation because they might think “It was not my fault. It's someone else's fault,” and in that case, you need to have a very different conversation. So in the first situation where they are open to feedback, then you can set some goals with them. You can discuss the situation in a very calm, rational way, agree to some remedial actions and move forward.

However, if they're in the second situation where they are in denial or resistance, then you need to have a little bit more of a directive conversation. So you need to be telling more than discussing, and this is where your evidence is going to come in handy and again. You can set some goals with them, but you've got to try to move them from being in denial or resistance into that space of acceptance, where you can start having a conversation to move forward. But if they are in denial or resistance there, your job in that first discussion is to move them to acceptance.

Again, it makes it sound complicated, and I guess it is if you want to have the outcome that you hope for. So, there is definitely an art to giving feedback and not only do you need to plan and get yourself in the right space, but you also need to make sure that the person you're giving the feedback to is also in the right space to move forward and change their behaviours. So, some food for thought in this week's podcast. I hope that helped. I hope that's got you thinking a little bit differently about giving feedback, and that you have some ideas about how perhaps you can improve it or how you can be more effective and be heard when you are giving this difficult feedback.

As ever, if you enjoyed today's episode, please make sure you hit the subscribe button. Do consider leaving a review. I outlined how to do that in the show notes and, of course, share this episode with your colleagues as well. But other than that, have a great rest of the week and I will see you next Thursday for the next episode of The Agency Accelerator Podcast.

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