Leadership Checklist: Critical Questions to Ask

“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.”

– Ken Blanchard

Why can it be so hard to motivate others to improve?

Knowing the right way to give and receive feedback is one of the hottest topics facing leaders today. With only 33% of the American workforce considered to be engaged at work—there’s definitely much room for growth.

In a recent Harvard Business Review (HBR) article, Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall, share their conclusion on what works and doesn’t work when giving feedback to others, “We humans do not do well when someone whose intentions are unclear tells us where we stand, how good we ‘really’ are, and what we must do to fix ourselves. We excel only when people know us and care about us tell us what they experience and what they feel, and in particular when they see something within us that really works.”

Here are 7 questions to ask yourself when you give feedback.

1. What’s my level of trust with this person? Without trust individuals are afraid to communicate honestly and openly. And, people are not open to hearing what someone thinks of their performance when there’s no confidence in the intent of the feedback. It is likely to hurt the relationship and hinder their learning. Trust happens when others feel heard, understood, valued, safe and connected.

2. What’s the individual’s expectation around this feedback? Is the individual anticipating appreciation, coaching or evaluation? Without a clear agreement of what success means to an individual, the conversation can go wrong very quickly. Setting clear agreements and expectations, set the stage for a rich conversation that will help an individual to thrive and excel.

3. How does this person like to communicate? We love the Golden Rule; “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. However, at Institute Success, we believe that 80% of conversations fail when using the Golden Rule. Instead, we believe 100% of conversations can succeed by asking the Golden Questions: “Who are you communicating with?” and “How can YOU adapt to be successful with them?” By understanding someone’s communication preferences, you can match their pace, tone, body language and even use specific words that resonate with them. Want to understand someone’s communication style before going into a meeting? Have them take the DISC Discovery Assessment.

4. How should I start the conversation? Choose your words carefully. Don’t begin conversations with phrases like, “I have some bad news,” “I need to give you some feedback,” and “We have a problem”. They immediately trigger negative responses and activate the amygdala, the primitive part of our brain that causes us to “freeze, flee or appease.” Instead, use neutral statements like, “Here’s my reaction”, “This is how it came across to me”, “This is how I felt”, and “I appreciate it when you.”

5. What have I noticed them doing right? Buckingham and Goodall share an example in their recent HBR article. “There’s a story about how legendary Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry turned around his struggling team. While the other teams were reviewing missed tackles and dropped balls, Landry instead combed thorough footage of previous games and created for each player a highlight reel of when he had done something right; when that player had done something easily, naturally, and effectively. Landry reasoned that while the number of wrong ways to do something was infinite, the number of right ways, for any particular player, was not. It was knowable, and the best way to discover it was to look at plays where that person had done it excellently.”

6. What’s my “why” in giving this feedback? In their book, Thanks for the Feedback by Douglas Stone & Sheila Heen, they explain, “Cross-transactions happen when the giver and the receiver are misaligned. Discuss the purpose of the feedback explicitly. It seems obvious, but even competent, well-meaning people can go their whole lives without ever having this part of the conversation.” They recommend asking yourself these three questions:

• “What’s my purpose in giving this feedback?”

• “Is it the right purpose from my point of view?”

• “Is it the right purpose from the other person’s point of view?”

7. How will we walk away with the same understanding? How many times have you left a meeting and thought you were on the same page with others—only to realize later that each person walked away with their own idea of what happened? Asking important questions like these below can help to clearly define takeaways, next steps and expectations about who is doing what.

• “What are you taking away?”

• “What can we do to make you more successful?”

• What agreements should we be making together?”

By preparing and asking yourself these powerful questions before your next feedback meeting, you can change what could have been a challenging encounter into a meaningful conversation that helps to build trust, improve learning and excel someone forward.

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