It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.
-J.K. Rowling, author (b. 1965)
I find this to be an excruciatingly true statement for myself, and I hear many of my clients struggling with the same thing. They ponder the dilemma–”How can I understand and motivate those around me without coming to know them well … yet once I know them well, I struggle with delivering difficult messages about poor performance.” Volumes could be written about how, as a society, we have come to equate agreement and lack of challenge with support and nurturance. That is a dangerous equation.
How do you deliver constructive criticism?
When faced with the need to give developmental feedback/coaching to someone on our team (or in our family), we often treat it as if it will, by definition, be a negative confrontation. On one hand we develop our “what if ” strategies to prepare ourselves to counter any argument, and on the other side we create a list of “softeners” to remind the person that we really are still caring and supportive. We don’t want to hurt anyone, or worse, have them think badly of us for having spoken up on the topic. I’ve even heard of strategies to “sandwich” negative feedback in between two compliments–that’s fine as long as the sandwich isn’t too heavy on bread without enough meat!
Try this simple word shift
Years ago I picked up a little word shift that has been helpful to me and many clients. Instead of looking on developmental, difficult conversations as confrontation, try thinking of them as CAREfrontations. Think about it–what is the purpose of telling someone they’ve underperformed? Usually it’s to help them learn from mistakes and get them back on a high performance path. That concern for their success in itself demonstrates a caring attitude. How much support are you really giving by letting them continue to make career killing mistakes while smiling and pointing out only the positives? Handled with respect, a caring conversation about improvement opportunities is what any good friend and great leader does.
So try looking through the lens of CAREfrontation rather than confrontation, and see if it relieves your own heartburn and increases the effectiveness of your coaching conversations.