There are dozens of feedback frameworks and tools out there about how to deliver a feedback conversation to make sure it’s effective. The Collaborative Feedback Framework focuses on collaboration, positioning feedback as a two-way dialogue and partnership, rather than a one-way conversation. When you deliver constructive feedback, you are coaching someone else to develop and grow. For most leaders I work with, constructive feedback does not come naturally, and therefore having a framework makes it easier.
The Collaborative Feedback Framework
The steps in this article and feedback framework will help you prepare for a feedback conversation so that it stays productive and calm. This framework is unique in that it highlights three key elements you’ll need to pay attention to when preparing to deliver candid feedback, including eight practical steps to approach it with care.
The Collaborative Feedback Framework: Courageous Communication with Candor and Care
It may sound counter intuitive to begin the preparation for a feedback conversation by focusing on yourself. After all, “the other person created the problem — or IS the problem here.” That’s what we usually tell ourselves and why we want to give them feedback in the first place.
But if you want to have a productive conversation where the other person learns, your relationship is strengthened, and action steps and ownership is clear going forward, you must begin with yourself.
1. Center Yourself
Do a personal check-in – are you in a good state to have this conversation?
You don’t want to have a difficult conversation when you are heated about a particular topic, exhausted, or triggered by stress of any kind. You want to give feedback when you can remain more neutral (rather than emotional), when you know you’ll be able to respond (rather than react), and when you are even keeled and cool no matter what unravels in the discourse. This may mean waiting an hour or day or week to have a conversation to ensure you can manage your own stress and emotions throughout the conversation.
And remember, you can always take a break to get yourself re-centered. This is the first step in the process, but you may need to revisit it along the way if you notice getting hijacked by stress.
Example: Try 10 slow, deep breaths, in and out through your nose to center yourself before the conversation.
2. Choose Your Mood or Attitude
Stress, emotions, and mindset go hand in hand, and all will impact how well the feedback conversation will go. Acknowledge your mood and attitude, and how it may be helping or hindering your communication. If you notice that your mind state is not supporting your ability to have a productive conversation, how can you shift it?
What mood or attitude would help you be more effective as a communicator? What mindset would be helpful for you to adopt going into the conversation to make it a productive one? Moods like curiosity, openness, and reflective tend to support conversations where there are differing opinions.
Example: Try on the mood of curiosity. You will notice that it is impossible to be curious and judgmental at the same time, which can really help disarm the other person in the conversation.
3. Acknowledge Fear or Discomfort — and Respond to it with Courage
The greatest obstacle to giving feedback is fear. Even when we know we have to discuss something with someone, the potential discomfort is enough to avoid the feedback altogether.
Leadership is about leaning into discomfort. It is about honoring how scary or uncomfortable it is to give feedback, have challenging conversations, make difficult decisions, and sit with uncertainty and ambiguity — and responding to that discomfort with courage. Some element of fear or discomfort will be there — how will you choose to respond to it?
It’s important to prioritize the relationship above the feedback or any associated tasks if you want the conversation to go smoothly. Make sure you are paying attention to the “We” and using the conversation to strengthen your relationship.
4. Communicate Your Goal, Ideal Outcome, or Intention
What is your “why,” or goal, for this conversation? What would you like to accomplish? What do you think the other person might want to gain from the conversation? What would be the goal for the shared relationship and organization? And where might there be common ground?
A goal or intention could be for yourself, the other person, your team, the organization, or some combination of these things. Try to focus on the outcomes you wish to generate and what needs to be said to accomplish those outcomes.
Ask yourself what success would look like once the conversation is behind you – how do you want to feel and how do you want the other person to feel? Share your intention with them at the beginning of your conversation.
5. Trust and Psychological Safety
Check in with yourself and honestly consider whether or not there is trust in the relationship with the person you are about to initiate this conversation with. Does the other person trust you? Would you trust that this person had your best interest in mind if they were to give you constructive feedback? If you don’t already have trust, it will be harder for your message to land, and you will have to work harder when setting the stage for the conversation.
The top priority is to remain open to their point of view and be mindful not to get defensive if their recollection or perspective differs from yours. If there is psychological safety, continue to deepen it by initiating the conversation in the spirit of elevating the relationship and helping the person grow, as well as delivering the message with both care and candor. Giving feedback could be seen as an offer to help the person to grow in some way. If there is trust, the other person will see it that way, and the conversation will be more productive.
One way to promote trust and psychological safety in a difficult conversation is to be vulnerable and honest – and again, put your relationship above the conversation. Start by sharing how you feel about them and the conversation you are about to have, and why this type of conversation is important for building trust.
Example: “I am nervous to have this conversation with you, but I want you to know that I’m coming to you because I respect you, care about you, and want you to succeed – and I would want you to feel comfortable giving me this kind of feedback as well, and would know it came with the best intentions. I hope you see it the same way.”
Now we get to that actual issue at hand, and the reason for having the conversation in the first place. The next few steps are where you focus on the situation, challenge, feedback at hand, and next steps.
6. Describe the Issue, Situation, or Pattern
What happened that you would like to discuss or debrief? Or perhaps there is a pattern of behavior you have observed you would like to bring to someone’s attention? In this step, the key is to describe the behavior or pattern of behavior you observed that needs to be addressed.
it is important to try your best to filter out your thoughts and feelings from what occurred. In other words, stick to the facts. This means recount examples, emails, reports, or any specifics that can help you ground your assessments with evidence, without seeming like you’re attacking them with documentation. If you are not 100 percent certain the facts are true, be inquisitive throughout this step.
One of the biggest ways humans muck up communication is by confusing opinions and facts. Don’t let your feelings overshadow the specific facts needed for productive conversations to happen. Make sure you are open, honest, respectful, and fact-based in your dialogue as you discuss the issue. Don’t withhold or sugarcoat facts that are important to the story, either. Open, honest, respectful, and fact-based wins.
7. Share the Consequence(s) or Impact
This is where you describe how the issue or their behavior impacted the meeting, employee, team, organization, or yourself. Be specific about what happened as a result of the action they took (or didn’t take) or comment they made (or didn’t make). This might be a clear consequence, such as losing a client after being underprepared for a meeting, or a team member quitting in response to an inappropriate comment.
However, some element(s) of this step may be subjective, so it is important to label it that way. Share your perception here and invite them to fill in theirs. Take turns sharing your experiences of the situation, and listening. Here are two simple phrasing frameworks to help you through this step:
- When …, I …” Phrasing: “When you don’t show up to team meetings, I fear you don’t care about the project and the entire team might see you as disengaged. It also adds an extra X# days to the project timeline.” Then you can invite them to share their story by saying something like, “I’m probably not seeing the whole picture. Can you help me understand what’s happening on your end?”
- Brené Brown’s “The story I’m telling myself …” Phrasing: “The story I’m telling myself about when you don’t show up to team meetings is that you don’t care. I realize that is only my interpretation and I’m not seeing the whole picture. Can you help me understand the full story?”
However you share the consequences, invite them to fill in their perspective. Be assertive about the facts, honest about your feelings, and open to their side of the story.
8. Collaborate on the Solution and Go-Forward Plan
Decide together what to do next to ensure you are turning communication into action. This could be as simple as making a clear request and getting their buy-in and commitment on it, or it could include negotiating next steps or brainstorming solutions together.
You can have ideas or a plan in mind for next steps, but make sure you remain open to their perspective, ideas, and input as well. The goal in collaborating is to find out what ideas they have for a go-forward plan, share your ideas and expectations, and design something better together — a solution that meets the needs of one another, the team, and the organization.
Before you close this step, make sure you have a clear call-to-action that you both agree on, as well as a plan for following up and accountability. This can also be a collaborative process, just ensure there are clear next steps, ownership, conditions of satisfaction, and shared expectations that you both understand and agree on. You may need time to consider ideas, or you may need to meet several times before landing on a final plan and commitment here, depending on the situation. This final step is crucial, so don’t rush it.
Bottom Line on the Collaborative Feedback Framework
This framework highlights that there are many factors to consider in ensuring the success of your feedback conversation, and you need to prepare for it. You can’t expect to wing it and for it to go well.
To make these conversations effective, plan out what you need to say, when and where to say it, and how to make the message relevant, digestible, and productive for both you and the other person. Follow the steps in the collaborative feedback framework, and you’ll wind up with a positive outcome and stronger relationship.
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