Delivering Difficult Messages at Work
Feedback is essential to the professional development process. As you advance
professionally, you will be placed in more situations in which you will need to
give feedback to others. Letting your direct reports know how well they are
doing is usually the enjoyable part of feedback loop. It's when a difficult
message has to be given that many managers and leaders stumble.
Whether the information needs to be shared with an individual, a group or an
entire organization, these instances can truly become an opportunity for all
parties involved. Opportunity arises when the outcome of the interaction leads
to greater awareness, learning, motivation, support and creativity as well as a
call to action.
Faced with this challenge-cum-opportunity, how do you actually do it?
Be ready - Know the message that you want to deliver and the results you
expect. Acknowledge and accept the uncomfortable feelings that you may have in
taking on this role. If anxiety or fear is holding you back, refocus on the
purpose of this interaction and the value that will be provided to all parties
involved, including yourself. For most, this is a chance to stretch your
Be concerned and compassionate, but don't "step on eggshells" - By using
empathy and considering how the receiver may feel during this meeting, you can
phrase your message so it will be heard and will maintain the dignity of the
receiver. Make sure the message comes across, though, and is not couched in
niceties. And, focus the conversation on the work, not the person. Things that
can be changed.
Be timely - Although it is easy to procrastinate on challenging tasks, this
is one that is best done sooner than later for you and the person receiving the
message. If the feedback is tied to a specific incident, it's best that both
parties have it freshly in their mind. If it is more general, the sooner the
feedback is given, the sooner action can be taken to improve the situation.
Never 'save' difficult messages for future annual reviews. It will lessen the
importance of the original message since it was delayed and a "negative"
surprise in a review can significantly impair motivation and morale.
Be concise - Once the conversation begins, allow it to finish quickly. If the
receiver is having an emotional response, he/she may want time to regroup as
soon as possible. Save other business items for a time when they will be heard.
Be available - After the conversation, let the receiver know you are
available to support him/her and what other resources can be used.
Be genuine - It's OK to share how you're feeling about the process and to
acknowledge the other party's feelings.
A primary goal of this process is to maintain and enhance the working relationship.
Considering the whole person allows you to move beyond this meeting.