When You’ve Got Tough Feedback to Give, Flex Your Style


An old maxim cautions: “There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing and be nothing.” We live in a world where feedback is unavoidable. And for most of us who deliver feedback to others, our default tendency is to give praise or constructive criticism in the way we like to hear it.

The trouble is, taking a universal approach to communicating with others works to our detriment. When we use a “standard template” for conveying praise or corrective advice, we’re practically inviting misunderstandings and broken trust. Just imagine the aftermath of giving hard-hitting feedback–with little context–to your most sensitive but reliable worker. More than just hurt feelings, we can actually distract a person from our main message with an ill-chosen delivery!

Business Chemistry represents a powerful framework for tailoring our feedback to others. By considering the traits most characteristic of each of the four Business Chemistry types, we can deliver pointers in a way that boosts peoples’ receptiveness and allows them to hear our core message. A bonus: as you practice tailoring your feedback, you’ll find that you have an improved ability to provide “micro-feedback.” That’s to say you’ll be better equipped to give powerful–but bite-sized, ongoing–feedback rather than surprising people in a once-a-year performance review.

Experiment with these feedback “flexers” the next time you need to give performance input:

Guardians
When delivering feedback to Guardians, first check your own demeanor. Maintaining a calm, measured manner will go far with this naturally cautious type. And since Guardians prefer processing information deeply, make a point to take the conversation slowly, leaving time for questions and analysis–maybe even suggesting an additional meeting so they have time to think through your initial feedback. To help with this, you can substantiate your feedback with detail, illustrations, and background data. And, since Guardians are the type most likely to reflect on their own mistakes (including what they should have done differently), work to help the Guardian focus on how their strengths can overcome their limits. Guardians excel at taking a methodical, structured approach so let them build a plan for improvement with you.

Pioneers
How can you best get through to Pioneers? Rather than making the conversation strictly corrective (or celebratory), guide the conversation to be more exploratory in nature. Given Pioneers’ energetic, adventurous nature, you can best capture their attention by tying your feedback to high-level thinking: concepts, novel ideas, even large scale trends that could accelerate or threaten your business. Because Pioneers believe big risks bring great things, you can ask them with confidence to take a bold step in a new direction. Just be careful not to lose them with a one-way lecture. Instead, engage them continuously, following your feedback with questions like, “What if you…?” or “How else could you imagine doing…?”

Integrators
Given Integrators’ distaste for anything that feels like confrontation, consider right from the outset how you will foster a cooperative, encouraging feedback conversation. Integrators as a group have a well-honed ability to be empathic and diplomatic–and will want the same from you! Since this group seeks consensus and agreement, make it a point to ask them how they see a negative behavior, for example, limiting their performance or impact. This will help build a sense of unanimity that a change needs to take place. You can also leverage the natural sense of duty to others that Integrators feel by showing them how a new behavior can and will benefit “the group”. Since Integrators want to please, express your trust and optimism that change is feasible for them. It will translate to a show of confidence that will validate and motivate them.

Drivers
Since Drivers favor a logical, direct communication style, plan to employ the same approach with them. Without a long preamble, get right to your feedback highlighting precise, observable information. And since Drivers are often skilled debaters, you may need to bring an even more confident, firm demeanor to the discussion. Sway the Driver type by using patterns and numbers to make your case; they tend to process information especially well this way. Perhaps most important, show Drivers that you “get them” by focusing on immediate action and by allowing them to flex their “experimental,” investigative muscles to find a new, better way.

Go ahead–give that tough feedback, but tailor it to the recipient. And remember that sharing is caring. After all, isn’t thoughtful, targeted feedback the ultimate investment in a person’s growth?


Selena Rezvani is a Manager in Business Chemistry for Deloitte’s Leadership Center for Clients. When she’s not delivering Business Chemistry labs, she focuses her time on content development by gathering research that addresses leading practices in learning design, behavioral assessments, and new tools and technologies. An experienced human capital consultant, Selena has more than a decade of experience in culture surveys, leadership training, and inclusion consulting.

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