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How to Give Tough Feedback

Here's one short coaching tip you can action immediately. Today's post takes about 2 minutes to read. This is about giving tough but constructive feedback which is one of the most important leadership and management skills.


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The Tip


Ever had to give some difficult feedback to a colleague or a member of staff? Maybe their negativity in meetings is dispiriting for everyone. Or maybe they are saying inappropriate things. It’s never easy to broach these kinds of issues. Do it clumsily and you might make the situation much worse and cause more upset along the way. But if you don’t do it at all, you can watch morale slip away.

Maybe it is time to use BOFF.

BOFF stands for Behaviour, Outcomes, Feelings, Future and it is a brilliant way to deliver difficult feedback in a way that makes sure the person hears it, while also being positive.

You simply work through each of the stages as you describe what you see. For example:

“I need to talk to you about the way you are behaving in meetings. You are being negative and it has become a bit of a habit.”

“This is making it difficult for everyone else to be as enthusiastic as they want to be, because you are creating a negative mood. That’s not a good outcome for anyone. Especially you.”

“When you do this I feel really sad. I think other people in the team feel sad too. And there is a risk they won’t want to work with you anymore.”

“I don’t want that. And I am sure you don’t want that. So in future I want you make a conscious effort to say something positive at the start of each meeting. I think you’ll find it transforms the way people respond to you.”

It can take a little practice to do this right. And you often have to deal with interruptions and excuses. But, it works like a charm, so stay calm and keep going.

You’ll be giving tough feedback like the best of them in no time 💪

How it Works

There are three elements to this technique that help it to work effectively:

  • it establishes a feedback relationship

  • it provides the feedback in a neutral way

  • it gives clarity both of the situation and of the future expectation.

To make it work really well it can be helpful to first have a little pre-amble. To have a short "talking about talking" conversation.

It you take a moment to say that you want to have a conversation about how things are going, and you get consent for that, you increase the chances of it working well.

In my experience, even if this doesn't go perfectly, it is better than doing nothing at all.

If You Are Coaching Someone

It is common for clients to have a difficult relationship at work with at least one person. Someone we find it hard to be natural and honest with.

Exploring the psychology of these relationships is some of the core work of leadership coaching. It can take multiple sessions, but can be transformative.

A technique like this is only dealing with the surface tensions, but it can start to change the dynamic and give the client a little more confidence.

Often I roleplay it with the client so they can rehearse the structure and even the actual words they want to use.

Finally, I always make sure to ask "and when will you do this?".

This is crucial to help the client commit to action.

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