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Leadership Communication Tips: Feedback to a Direct Report

Keep a journal about your people through the year or throughout a project. This makes feedback and performance review time much more enjoyable.

Inspirational leaders are able to strike a balance of being firm and understanding. They listen to someone else's point of view. They empathize with their situation and ask for their thoughts on addressing the problem. They also take ownership of the feedback and are direct, clear, and specific. When you are tasked with delivering feedback, think about your structure, presence, and boost your inner confidence.

Leadership Communication

Structure: Use a straight-forward structure:

1. Invite conversation, such as: "I have some thoughts I'd like to share with you about xyz."

  • Describe your concrete observations

  • Be specific

  • Give examples as appropriate

2. If someone else informed you of the issues and you believe them to be true, make sure you claim responsibility as opposed to serving as middle-person. You are the authority in this situation.

  • Explain the impact of these observations. What do they make you think? What do they signal?

  • Pause and listen for comments and clarifying questions

3. Create an action plan for resolving the issue

  • Ask the other person for their thoughts about how to address the situation/problem

  • Offer suggestions or time to brainstorm

4. If positive changes are made, recognize the person's accomplishment

Presence: Maintain an authoritative and empathetic presence

1. Speak with clear diction and a consultative tone. Do not rush. Use your voice to set a comfortable mood. It is better to keep the content brief, but the pace slow.

2. Watch for qualifiers like maybe, might, kind of, and possibly. These will make you sound uncertain. If you want some uncertainty, use them to get the other person to open up.

2. Maintain a neutral expression. Your emotions will be contagious. If you want to help the other person hear the content, a neutral expression will help them focus more on the substance of your statements.

3. Sit tall with good posture. Your spine shows your authority and energy. Stretch yourself vertically and only tilt your head when you want them to react. A purposeful head tilt will signal you are listening and appears more compassionate. Use both head positions with a good upright posture.

Confidence: Remind yourself why you are the right person to be giving this feedback. Deliver this feedback the way you would want to receive this feedback.

1. You are telling them the truth. You are their manager and need for them to be fully aware of the issues.

2. You are inspiring them with new learning expectations. Show that you care about their growth and development.

3. You are saving them time along their career progression. Your knowledge and experiences will help with inefficiencies.

Leadership communication is the catalyst that empowers leaders to foster understanding, trust, and inspiration among teams and stakeholders. These critical skills are needed to be a strong leader, and they don't always come easily, especially in stressful or difficult situations. Delivering feedback to team members is one of those situations. And, it is those delicate conversations that need to happen to raise the bar for your team and impact the way you perform.

When your feedback feels more like feedforward and comes from a place of believing in their potential, you are inspiring. Have fun experimenting with these strategies and making them your own.

by Stephanie Bickel


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