One of the reasons I was nervous about blogging was that it felt very one way…listen to me. Well, an opportunity presented where I happily get to share someone else’s ideas/results. Today is another installment of a lead to the edge guest author, Jennifer Dyni. I had the pleasure of first working with Jennifer in 2008. I’m extremely honored she was willing to write this post.
Delivering feedback – a valuable skill for any leader – is one of those things that has not come naturally to me.
I started my career thinking that all it took to be a good at sharing appreciations or criticisms was to simply state my perspective out loud. (I’m from Jersey. Direct is good.) As it turns out, literally spewing out my thoughts and ideas didn’t always go very well. Or at least not the way I expected it to. My attempts to help influence up, down, and sideways were rarely sunshine and daisies and much more often eye rolls and terse “sure, whatever” blow offs. I also had some spectacular failures where the things I said quickly led co-workers to get visibly angry and tell me off for my insensitivity to their situation.
Clearly I did a lot of learning what not to do by experiencing it firsthand.
In order to grow as a leader, I’ve spent a lot of time exploring and trying different tools and techniques that help me deliver feedback more effectively. Here’s some of what has helped me become more successful:
START WITH FRAMEWORKS
There’s lots of great resources on how to start a conversation with teams or individuals. They map out templates for a variety of situations – for example, appreciation, confrontation, delegation – and I use them to help me map out my opening statement clearly and concisely.
One of the frameworks I use often is called “Continue and Consider”:
- If I want to help encourage someone or help them recognize a strength, I kick off my discussion with phrases like “keep repeating” or “be confident with more” with [specific thing I see as a strength] and follow up with examples of the behavior or actions I observed personally that I perceive as kicking butt and taking names.
- When I want to help someone recognize a challenge that I feel is holding them back or needs more attention, I use phrases like “consider changing” or “you can improve your effectiveness” [specific thing I see as an area to grow] and then also support that with examples where I’ve observed them struggle.
- I also try to include a question after my statements, so that I’m inviting the person to respond and we start a conversation about how things might go differently moving forward.
The start of a “continue” discussion might look like this:
“Hey, Ryan. I wanted to give you some feedback about the UI code review you led yesterday with our team. I hope you continue to take the initiative to help our team own the quality of our code, including walking through how to use tools to assess code complexity and run analysis on test coverage. I appreciate that you helped the team walk through refactoring recent UI pull requests without calling out names, helping the team learn without making individuals, especially some of our junior developers, feel bad. How did you think it went?”
A “consider” conversation might begin like:
“Hannah, I wanted to give you some feedback about the component you’ve been building for our new feature. When the component was pulled into testing, I noticed that it wasn’t integrating shared design libraries and now it will need to be reworked. Consider changing your story analysis process to research or get feedback from other team members about what you might be able to reuse before you start coding.”
Some other resources I keep going back to if I’m looking for phrases or questions to reach out with feedback include:
- Susan Scott’s Fierce Conversations
- Lyssa Adkin’s Coaching Agile Teams
- Kerry Patterson & Joseph Grenny’s Crucial Conversations
ATTUNE WITH IMPROV
The nonverbal cues I’m communicating during conversations are just as important as the words.
To help me recognize when my natural style might not support my message, I’ve learned a lot about attuning my delivery as well as my listening with improv techniques. I like using the game “Mirror, Mirror” to stretch my powers of detection and reflection. I find an improv buddy, and then we take turns practicing with different scenarios (happy situations like winning the lottery, frustrating events like losing our keys) and mirroring the eye contact, hand gestures and facial expressions our improv buddy is communicating. We then debrief on what we saw — what groups of positive or negative signals we used to interpret what the other person’s point of view is and how open or closed they are to the conversation.
There’s no such thing as a silver bullet, single perfect feedback conversation. When I’m asking someone to change – even when that change is to do more of a good thing – people often need time to process. I do my best to make it easy for team members to have multiple follow up conversations where they can ask deeper questions about what’s expected. What’s the urgency? What training or tools do they need? Who else can they connect with for coaching or mentoring? Making myself available to others might look like scheduled or impromptu one on one meetings. Grabbing coffee. A walk around our office campus.
These tools and techniques have definitely propelled me along my leadership journey, helping me progress in my career from individual contributor, to sometimes project/people leader, to full-time coach. I’m less likely to open mouth, insert foot, especially when I take time to try new techniques in a safe environment. For example… While it seems silly to practice a framework, it helps to role play and try it out a few times so that when you need to use it to start a conversation at work, the word choices feel and sound natural, not scripted (In comparison, to say, trying the “exactly by the template” word choice when trying to give feedback to your significant other, who will then totally call out that you’re clearly up to something).
After having many roles on her 18+ years on software project teams, Jennifer Dyni is currently an Agile Coach and Engineering Team Owner with Ultimate Software. Her passion is helping teams foster highly collaborative and creative work environments while making great solutions. In addition to leading like-minded professionals, Jennifer is also the leader of her daughter’s Girl Scout Troop… where she continues to receive lots of lessons on how (not) to deliver feedback to future leaders. Connect with Jennifer on twitter @jenniferdyni or on LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/jennifer-dyni.