Victor has recently started a business. He believes the future success of his business lies in having a great team and wants to build an environment where communication and friendliness among staff is highly encouraged.

To ensure his ideals are in-line with his managerial actions, he has started coaching with you to work on his communication skills and to learn strategies which could be used to motivate his staff. For this purpose, he has made a list of questions which he would like your help answering – with the first question being: “How can I be more honest with my feedback to my employees without hurting their feelings and having them not like me?”

As the coach, what can you suggest to this client? Zahava Starak, LCI Master Coach, answers…

It is normal that a client posing this question is be looking for a way out of a ‘sticky’ situation – as the giving and receiving of feedback is often laden with problems – and in fact it may be impossible to have a ‘win-win’ situation in which both the receiver and giver of the feedback are fully satisfied.

In your role of coach you can inform your client that you can work together to find strategies and learn communication skills that will enhance their performance in offering feedback but your client still needs to know up front that there are no guarantees on how their feedback will be received. 

For an optimum outcome you can approach this problem by initially exploring your client’s personal value system and consider what role communication plays in it. By the nature of your client’s concerns it may be assumed that they place high value on communication skills.

However rather than make this assumption you can provide your client with a list of commonly held values and have them pick ten and then rank them in importance. The discussion that follows will either validate your client’s awareness of their need for effective communication or it will draw to their attention the omission of this value on their list and can encourage some introspection on how they actually view communication in their life.

The ability to be able to communicate with employees and provide feedback in an appropriate manner is a skill that your client will need to learn and by exploring how they value this skill you’ll be able to gauge your client’s motivation and commitment to change.

At this time you may chose to engage your client in a discussion on the ‘philosophy’ of effective communication with the intention of beginning to introduce them to specific skills.

There are many books available on communication skills and you may benefit from reading the works of researchers and writers such as Carl Rogers, Robert Bolton and Richard Egan who are the predecessors to our 21st century coaches.

Such a background may help you to educate your client on what makes ‘good feedback’. Without complicating the issue you can simply inform your client of some of the core concepts essential to communication such as: genuineness, self-acceptance; respect and empathy.

Having a good intellectual understanding of what makes for effective communication serves as a good background for the more practical. Practical in this case equates to a feedback process which includes a number of steps as follows:

  1. Know what you want to say – be sure that your information is accurate and that it needs to be said.
  2. Decide where and when you want to offer your feedback.
  3. Make sure there are no distractions.
  4. State your points clearly and assertively – use appropriate language and avoid inappropriate jargon.
  5. Assure that your body language is in sync with your comments.
  6. Use the listening skills of paraphrase and summary when responding to others.
  7. Ask for Feedback.

With these guidelines in mind your client can now be introduced to specific skills such as the use of XYZ statements; appropriate body language including body posture, pitch, tone of voice, facial expressions, eye contact, breathing, mirroring and the use of silence. You can follow up on the explanation of these skills with a demonstration which can then be discussed for further understanding.

It now may be an appropriate time to learn some more specific details about your client’s situation and through open and closed questions and responding skills you can get a clear picture of what exactly the client wants to say to their employees.

Your client is now ready to put it all together and to practice his new skills both with you and in non-threatening real life situations until they feel confident to address their employees. This may also be an opportunity to congratulate your client on the efforts they have put in so far and to once again remind them that they in the process of offering feedback can only be responsible for their behaviours – not the recipients.

It could happen that your client will not get the response they want and will not be liked as a result of their feedback and so you need to prepare your client for this possibility.

You can remind them of the core concepts of communication which include self acceptance and you can use NLP techniques or cognitive restructuring to reframe their negative thoughts so they view the whole experience as one of learning and enlightenment.

They can be encouraged to

  1. Acknowledge they did the best they could.
  2. Acknowledge that they survived and coped with the consequences of their feedback.
  3. Write down everything they learned from the experience.
  4. Thank the giver of the uncomfortable feedback.
  5. Refocus on the reason they themselves offered feedback in the first place.
  6. If possible clean up any messes that may have been created and perhaps use some conflict resolution skills.
  7. Take time to review successes.

At the end of the day we all want to go to bed feeling that despite conflicts and uncomfortable situations we have done the best we can and your client can be outfitted with knowledge and skills to allow for this.