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As a manager, you’re like an orchestra conductor.   Or a coach.

Your result isn’t just your own work — it’s the sum of what people on your team have done.   On your watch.

People need direction, encouragement, affirmation.

And course correction.

Giving and receiving feedback is a core management competency.

It’s not always easy.  Especially when it seems like someone needs to do something differently.

If you feel daunted at the prospect of offering feedback, you’re not alone.  I frequently see experienced, senior professionals who absolutely dread telling a team member that she needs to up her game.

To develop your skill, use context, preparation, and practice.

Context.  Don’t manage people:  manage relationships.   By doing this every day, when the time comes to offer feedback, you’ll have set the stage.

Know your people.   Their goals.  What motivates them.

And even their “biorhythms.”   As a morning person, I’d rather hear from you early, when I’m at my peak.

Yes, you do put your own needs on hold.   It’s not about you.  Your feedback can only be effective when you’ve been heard.

Notice when people excel; praise people’s performance when warranted.   This sets a foundation for a more effective conversation when things aren’t going so smoothly.

Preparation.  When you’re pitching a project or making a presentation:  you prepare.   You consider the message you want to convey.   Your audience.  And then you hone that message.  You choose the right words.

You don’t have to create a Powerpoint to offer feedback!

I do recommend having a script.  Write down what you want to say: distill your message into bullet points.  It’s even okay to take this script to your conversation.  And to refer to it, to make sure that you’ve included all salient points.

You may have heard that feedback is best offered “in the moment.”   This is true, with a caveat:  consider your own emotional state.

If you’re angry or frustrated?  Congratulations.  You’re human!   Yet powerful emotions can overpower your message.

Instead of hearing, “Here’s what I need to do, so that I can be successful” my team member might just hear, “Anne’s mad.”

So if you’re gripped by emotion, wait.

Unless your work is actually brain surgery, rocket science — or lives are otherwise in the balance — wait.  The next day is usually “in the moment” enough to make a difference.    (Don’t wait too long.)

Practice.   You’d practice a pitch or presentation.  If you anticipate a tough conversation, find a trusted ally and practice the conversation.   Talk through your worries and fears.   (What if your team member starts to cry?)

A trusted ally is someone you can count on to keep your confidence.   This is a mentor, a coach, or a peer (maybe even a significant other) who can be guaranteed to keep your practice session, and its content, securely off the grapevine.

Before offering feedback, step back.   Check your intention:  feedback should serve a higher purpose:  to help someone to develop their skills, or to better play their role in achieving your organization’s overall goals.

And be aware, you’re not broadcasting.   You’re conversing.   Don’t just talk:  listen.

Finally, remember:  managing is one of those talents that’s subject to the ten year rule.  100 feedback conversations from now, you still might find them tough.

But you’ll be far more skilled — at offering feedback, and as a manager.

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Photo:  Tesla Speaker by d_bob, via Flickr, used under Creative Commons License.

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