5 Thoughtful Questions….a Different Way to Provide Difficult Feedback

I spend a lot of time connecting with my team and customers at work. In many ways, I’ve spent most of my career interviewing people. At first, I was literally just screening candidates for jobs, but over time I’ve found a much more valuable use for those interview skills.

In the last 10 years  I’ve come to realize that people with whom you work don’t always want to know what you think.

Shocking, right?

Often they can’t handle the truth directly because it’s a challenge to their ego and it makes them uncomfortable. I’ve also come to the conclusion that there are some serious parallels to your coworkers and friends. How many times has a friend (or coworker) approached you, asked how you felt about something and either rejected your opinion or lashed out because they felt threatened?

We’ve all been there – and it’s tough.

We want to be supportive to those around us but it takes patience to really perfect helping them discover truth for themselves.

That’s where great questions come into play.

I’ve done some thinking over the past couple of weeks and I’ve discovered a few questions that might help you help others with their truth in a given situation.

  1. What is your goal or objective?So many times our friends are employees don’t even know what they are after. They may be chasing their tail or going for something that isn’t even reasonable. It is more than OK for you to help them consider the feasibility and practicality of their situation.
  2. Why do you feel the goal or objective is important?The why is probably the most important part to the equation. Is the motive genuine and honest or is it based on personal gain or something more malicious like retaliation or revenge?
  3. Have you identified the steps you need to take to reach your goal/objective?In my experience, both professionally and personally, I’ve found that many frustrations are rooted in the fact that no plan has been made to make things happen. In a world where things are often just handed to us, we don’t know how to break down goals or objectives in to small manageable milestones.
  4. Have you already done the work needed to achieve this goal/objective?This is probably the hardest question to ask. Self-awareness is not a common skill. Most people are quick to point to external factors and influences as to why they’ve not attained or achieved something. Tread softly with this question should you make it this far in the process.
  5. If you feel you have done the work – what’s the disconnect and what could YOU do differently?This is the second phase of self-awareness and will more often than not feel more harsh than it actually is. This is where you help someone self-access and force them to come to terms with the reality in which they’re living. It won’t feel good at first, but I’ve found it’s often very cathartic in the end.

I know these sound a bit formal, and they don’t have to be worded in this way. The idea is to get the other party thinking differently about their situation.

Don’t allow them to play the blame game. If they’ve done the work, they will have reached their goal. For example, when someone is trying to go for a promotion, they will say it’s their employer’s fault or they just don’t interview well. Great boss relationships and interview skills are part of the work of reaching a goal like a promotion. If it’s truly their boss – why do they still work there? They still have control over their long-term upward mobility.

Now – there are limitless clarifying questions that could be asked in between these listed – I’m not naive – but hopefully these help provide a framework on navigating those difficult conversations.

The Foundation

I’ve discovered that the most important aspect to providing feedback or guidance is to have laid a foundation of trust prior to the conversation. At work we often talk about providing feedback but it is meaningless without an established relationship with the other party. If you’ve not done pre-work of relationship building, I caution you prior to taking the leap into this dialogue. A big piece of success in this type of conversation is having a fairly good understanding of the answers to the questions prior to asking. If you know your friends well enough or have worked with your peers and employees long enough, you should be well equipped for this conversation.

It’s not an exact science, but if you’re motive is to help someone you care about, this is a very effective way to navigate the complexities and emotion of a difficult feedback conversation.

Give it a shot. Worst case scenario it doesn’t work. Best case, you’re the catalyst to positive change in someone’s perspective.


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