We CAN handle the truth! The GIFT of Feedback…

you cant handle the truth post imageI was watching “A Few Good Men” on DVD this weekend as I was curled up in bed suffering from a massive cold. I waited for it with much anticipation. I knew it was coming. No, not the hacking cough where I almost lost one of my lungs – I was waiting for the single best scene in the whole movie. The scene where Lt Daniel Kaffee, played by Tom Cruise is questioning Col Nathan Jessep, played by the legendary Jack Nicholson, about the code red…

Col Jessep: “You want answers!”

Lt Kaffee: “I WANT THE TRUTH!”

Wait for it…wait for it…


As the veins on Nicholson’s neck and forehead practically exploded, I started thinking about this post. Yes, I am a bit strange. That will become even more evident the further along you read.

The reality is that most people can’t in fact, handle the truth. I think we all know that. So, as a result we have evolved into a society where feedback – telling someone the truth about something they did or said – is considered anything but a gift. Here’s the reality folks – feedback is a gift – when delivered correctly, for the right reasons, and under the right circumstances. As a human resources professional I frequently hear employees complain that the only time their managers talk to them is when they do something wrong – and even then, what they hear is really not very useful.

Offering feedback is often interpreted as telling someone they have done something wrong. Rather than tell someone they’ve made a mistake or that they could have handled a situation differently, we often ignore the situation, beat around the bush to try and get that person to see for themselves the error of their ways, or wait until performance evaluation time and whack them over the head with whatever mistake they made six months ago. And we wonder why we get the “deer-in-the-headlights” look, or why our employee engagement scores are so low? Really?

We fear feedback for many reasons. Leaders have offered me several interesting reasons why they avoid feedback. I’ve heard everything from “I don’t need to give them feedback, everything they need to know is in their job description,” to “I just don’t know how to deliver feedback effectively.” You don’t want to know how I have addressed the first one. Let’s leave that one for another post. What I will do is offer you some simple guidelines for delivering feedback effectively. If you follow these steps you will become the Santa Claus of feedback. Okay, so maybe not Santa, but you may actually see a difference in how people respond to your feedback.

The FIAESR Model – Yes, I made that up. No, it’s not a German word, work with me here:

F is for FACTS: When delivering feedback, stick to the facts and ONLY the facts. The mistake we often make is interjecting our opinion. Honestly, the facts are what matter here, not your opinion. Please restrain yourself and just offer facts. What did the person do or say? Be SPECIFIC.

I is for IMPACT: What impact did the person’s actions have on the team, the department, the customer, the division, the organization? You can also hit them where it hurts by explaining how their actions impacted them. Again, be SPECIFIC.

A is for ACTION: What action are you taking as a result of what was done or said? Are you just going to have an informal “talk” or is disciplinary action involved? Are you giving them an award? Yes, we do offer feedback when people do things well. What a novel concept?

E is for EXPECTATIONS: Moving forward, what are your expectations of this person? Outline those expectations and then test for understanding. Be sure they “get” what you are saying.

S is for SUPPORT: How are you going to help the person meet and/or exceed the expectations you just clearly articulated?

R is for REPERCUSSIONS: Here is where we typically drop the ball. Yes, “we.” I drop the ball often when it comes to the R. We often forget to set the stage for what will happen should aforementioned expectations fail to be met. This is the “so what?” part of the conversation. So what if I don’t hit my quota? So what if I do? It’s important to connect the dots for people.

When we put all of these steps together feedback becomes more than just empty words – or what is oftentimes interpreted as threats or insincere compliments. Feedback becomes a gift. It has an impact and can drive changes – changes in attitudes, which drive changes in behaviors, which then drive changes in outcomes.

Give it a try. Let me know if it works for you. It’s worked for me for fifteen years.

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