Zed Williamson

Giving Employee Feedback: How to Go from Uncomfortable to Empowering

Tough feedback. We all need it at times. But most often, no physician or business leader wants to give it to their team.

Monique Valcour

Tough feedback. All employees likely need it at some point. But most often, no leader wants to give it.

One of the most important elements of running a successful practice and/or MedTech team is to ensure your team and employees are performing at the highest level. And with that comes the need to deliver feedback of all kinds, regardless of how challenging or uncomfortable it may be.

To address this, we recently sat down with Monique Valcour—a foremost expert in building people’s capacity to learn, engage, perform, and communicate at work while thriving in all domains of life.

An Executive Coach, Management Professor, and regular Harvard Business Review contributor, Monique shares some enlightening and empowering insights that are sure to give you the courage you need to turn your feedback into a powerful, mutually beneficial conversation.

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TrackableMed: What initial advice would you give to someone who’s nervous about giving what they believe to be tough feedback?

Monique: What you're essentially doing with feedback is you're building people's capacity to be able to self-observe and take ownership over their own performance.

However, you're also helping to align with your expectations, which often times are less clear to the employee than you think that they are. Because of the fact that it can feel a little bit uncomfortable, we make up these stories in our heads about what's happening with the employee.

We may have a tendency to think something like:

"Oh gosh, this person just isn't good at this. Or they're going to be really defensive, or they have a bad attitude."

If you actually care about helping the person perform well and meet their potential, that requires a commitment on your part, too. You may try saying:

"You know what? This conversation is tricky for me. I'm not an expert at this, but here's something I've noticed I'd like to discuss it with you.”

TrackableMed: When is the right time to deliver feedback vs. when should you hold back and let the situation work itself out?

Monique: Feedback is not something to hold back on. It’s not something to save up. I recommend that people be in constant communication with their teams.

You always want to be highlighting and reinforcing behavior that's consistent with good performance, that supports what you're looking for people to do, and when you're seeing behavior that is veering off of that target. That's a great moment to inquire about what's happening.

“Oh, I just noticed when you were delivering that presentation to the client that you seemed to be a little bit nervous…or you seemed to lose your train of thought. What was happening for you right there? Were you aware of that?”

TrackableMed: You mention giving feedback isn’t so much about convincing as it is about learning. How do you try to facilitate learning during the feedback process?

Monique: In addition to empathy, another thing that can be quite powerful for managers is a shift in perspective. Many times, when we're in a process of giving somebody feedback, there will be some defensiveness that arises.

Our natural tendency is to try and push a little bit harder to go into a mode of convincing – almost like we're trying to get this employee to accept our account of their performance, and the employee's saying, "No, you're wrong about that.”

Unfortunately, an approach like that ends up driving a wedge, making the feedback ineffective. Instead, I recommend that managers be more in a mode of inquiry to facilitate a person's learning.

Help people to do some self-assessment such as:

"Walk me through how that sales meeting went. What was your intention? What were you noticing when you were presenting? What was the feedback you were picking up? What would you have done differently? What did you feel like you did best?"

TrackableMed: You do a lot of leadership development work and training managers how to incorporate coaching into their portfolio. What’s the difference between coaching and mentoring?

Monique: The difference between coaching and mentoring is significant.

Mentoring is a process whereby somebody who has more experience in some domain is sharing their experience and their advice to somebody who’s less experienced in that domain.

Mentoring is an advice-giving role. Coaching is a process of facilitating the person's self-directed learning.

When I'm training leaders how to coach I start off with listening skills, helping them learn how to listen to another person share their challenges without giving advice in return. Simply ask very open questions that help the person to explore their issue a little bit more.

In that exercise, when people are listening, they always say, "That was incredibly difficult. I had so much I wanted to say. I couldn't stand not helping this person solve their problem."

TrackableMed: If you had one piece of advice that you could deliver to managers and leaders that would have the largest impact, what would that be?

Monique: Some of my favorite research has shown that the most motivating state that we can be in is to have the sense of making progress at work that is meaningful to us.

So as a leader, if you keep that in mind, how do I facilitate progress at meaningful work?

Every single day, you need to think, "How do I help my people make progress? How does what they're doing connect to some significant outcome that they care about?”

Want more insights about coaching your team and giving feedback?

This article featured merely a portion of Monique’s interview in a recent episode of The Medical Sales Accelerator podcast. For more in-depth tips and advice, check out the full episode of The Art and Science of Delivering Tough Feedback.

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