The Importance of Consistent, Compassionate Feedback

Communicating compassion from a distance can be really hard. This is especially the case with prolonged remote work and school, and when emotions and stress are running high, maybe in ways we don’t even fully realize. For most of us, emotions and work don’t often mix to begin with, and feedback is almost always emotional.

Yet consistent, compassionate feedback is exactly what this moment calls for.

As working parents start to consider school and childcare this fall, and as the Coronavirus continues to mean sheltering in place and working from home (some companies have recently extended work from home policies through summer 2021) the long-term effects — anxiety, toxic stress to name a couple — are becoming clearer and more pronounced by the day.

Now is precisely the time to have more conversations, not fewer, and for managers to ask how they can be supportive. This might mean flexible working hours, clarified expectations, different meeting schedules. It’s never been more important for consistent and compassionate feedback.

I shared a strategy on how to have meaningful feedback conversations with confidence in Honestly Speaking. I’ve evolved that strategy here a bit to help in the time of sheltering in place:

6 Steps for Consistent, Compassionate Feedback

1. Start with motivations. I like to ask myself: what do I really want? What do I fear? What is really bothering me, or what would make this situation better? What’s motivating me here? Positive motivations are learning, finding truth, getting results, cultivating connection. Negative motivations are trying to win, to be right, to blame, punish or embarrass, or to avoid. I ask myself why this is an important feedback conversation to have — whether I’m giving or receiving the feedback.

2. Recognize my own narrative. Every person’s brain develops their own narrative or story about a person or situation. We all carry these around with us. I try to recognize and get to know mine. Separating out facts from opinions really helps see what’s a narrative, and how it might be different than someone else’s. Do I see myself as a victim or villain? A protagonist or antagonist? What’s the story I’m telling myself about how my manager sees me, or how my direct reports experience me?

3. Make it feel safe for others. Communication is ultimately about seeking common ground. I try to start from a place of respect. I try to make sure to clarify my intent and my connection with the other person. I try to prioritize this long term connection over the short term content of the particular feedback. Everybody gets defensive when we perceive negative intent. So try to communicate from a place of positive intent.

4. Acknowledge other narratives. I try to state the facts, to share my narrative, ask about others’ narratives, and then converse.I try to ask about other people’s stories or assumptions, and then to explore rather than expound. This is really important because it helps me to find where there’s already overlap and common ground.

5. Making it feel safe for others to share with you, and to share their own path. I try to make it my goal to understand the other person’s point of view. I try not to react right away, and when I do, it’s about finding where the narratives don’t match up — and then we can talk through the differences. Thanking people when they give you the feedback is important — because it’s hard to share feedback as much as it is to give it. Importantly, positive feedback is important to give — expressing gratitude and admiration for what’s going well is especially important in hard times.

6. Clarify action and outcomes. Who does what? When? What is a next step? Even if we agree to disagree, what will I do differently? How do we move forward? Being clear about what you need and what the outcomes are is helpful not only in this conversation, but in terms of building the longer-term
trusting relationship that makes the next feedback conversation a little easier.

Don’t underestimate how hard this is for people right now. Regardless what you see online or read, it’s hard for people. Take care of each other. Check in on those you love, especially those who are used to keeping it all together and taking care of everybody else. Please reach out if I can help. If I can’t, I guarantee I know someone who can.

Communications and culture leader, author, certified coach, lawyer, yoga teacher.

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