“Integrity is telling myself the truth. Honesty is telling the truth to other people.”
-Spencer Johnson, Author of Yes or No: The Guide to Better Decisions
Work long enough as a leader, and you’ll most likely be in a situation where you need to give feedback. Feedback that’s meaningful to the person recieving it and actually achieves your purpose is hard to do for most people. So, how do you give honest feedback without being hurtful?
In today’s post, Strong Cincinnati explains why honesty is necessary for a positive workplace culture. To give honest feedback, we’re sharing a process for giving feedback without hurting feelings.
Why Is Honesty Necessary In The Workplace?
We’ve all heard that “honesty is the best policy”, but opinions can differ on when and where that honesty is truly valuable. If you want a positive workplace culture, you need to embrace feedback given with honesty.
A desire to not hurt feelings. Trying to keep the peace. Simply following tradition.
Many reasons can keep us from using our strength of honesty during feedback. While honesty needs to be paired with tact, this strength can build employees’ confidence in their leadership. It also increases loyalty.
According to Kim Scott, author of Radical Candor, people first associated “brutal honesty” or “tough love” with the framework of Caring Personally, Challenging Directly. However, Radical Candor (or honesty in the workplace) is not permission to be a jerk or “mean” to others. It is caring enough to be direct with them. Turns out, honesty shows people you care enough about them to tell them the truth.
How To Give Honest Feedback Without Being Hurtful
So, we know feedback is important. How do we give it? Here’s a 5-step process for giving honest feedback to anyone.
First, narrow down your purpose for the feedback.
Do you want to recognize the work they’ve done and celebrate it? Do you want them to improve in one specific area? Are you evaluating or rating them? Be clear. Knowing why you’re giving the feedback will help you organize the conversation.
Second, ask the person how they’d like feedback to be shared.
People prefer to hear feedback in various ways. Some may want face-to-face conversations right after an event. Others might want to read through a written note. This shows that you care about them and delivering feedback in a way they find respectful.
Third, identify the specific action you want to recognize.
When your boss tells you “good job”, you might wonder how do I repeat this if I don’t know what exactly made it good? This feedback might feel nice, but it’s too vague to make an impact.
The opposite is also true. If your boss tells you, “that was a horrible project”, you’ll feel bad and have no actionable steps to take to make it better. Did you manage your time poorly? Was the project underresearched? How did your communication with partners go? Make sure your feedback is clear to both you and the person recieiving it.
Fourth, share the impact that specific action had on the team or organization.
When you share the impact, the person receiving knows why this action was a positive or negative choice. For instance, an employee who comes a few minutes late to present at a staff meeting may not think it’s a huge deal. However, sharing the impact: that people were delayed for their next meetings and the executive team may not ask them to present again will impress the importance. When done correctly, an impact statement can inspire a person to make a change.
Finally, provide specific support to improve in the future.
This ensures the person is given space to share their context for their action, if applicable, and help come up with ways to improve. Perhaps they need confidence coaching before giving another presentation or they need a couple tasks reshuffled among the team to have time to gather their materials.
By concentrating on the specific action, you can connect that action with an impact. Pairing that with concrete steps to improve without judgement is an effective way to give honest feedback without being hurtful.
Put Honesty Into Practice
- Clear The Pipes. Use the remaining minutes at the end of a staff or team meeting to give people the opportunity to voice any frustrations or lingering hesitations about decisions. When this is done consistently and effectively, it stops small hiccups from festering and potentially becoming major issues down the line.
- Communicate the Positives and Negatives. Often, we can think of blunt honesty as a tool solely for communicating negative or “bad” feedback. Flip the script. Use honesty in communicating when things went well as well as acknowledging the negative.
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Putting Positive Psychology to Work in Organisations, Hillenbrand, Camara, and Money, 2009
Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well, Stone and Heen, 2014