Delivering Difficult Feedback

Elizabeth Lions

February 15, 2019

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Delivering difficult feedback with grace is one of the hardest things a female leader can do, yet is the most necessary. When delivering feedback, some women may sound angry, judgmental, or attacking due to the tone of their voice or the look on their face. Others can't quite say what they need to say, leaving the team member fuzzy about what took place in the one-on-one meeting. It's a delicate balance. Delivering negative feedback can be difficult if this is one's first leadership position.

Delivering feedback in a way that makes a person grow is ideal. It should be like gently tapping them on the shoulder. It's felt, but it doesn't bruise. As women, we struggle with being honest and fear our honesty and transparency will hurt another. What I've found is that it's never my content that gets me in trouble; it's always my delivery.

We mistake our truth for the only truth, but it's our perception about what we think happened. The mind creates its own reasoning, and we believe it thinking we have the truth; it's only the narrow confines of our own minds. It's a mistake to walk into any corrective conversation thinking one has all the facts if questions aren't asked beforehand.

There are many articles discussing delivering feedback, but few talk about intention.

The intention of giving the feedback is as critical as the information being delivered.

Sadly, we don't communicate in the spirit of unity; we talk—not communicate—for the sake of being heard, or worse, being right.

We get so wrapped up in what we are going to say that we forget there is anyone out there on the other side of our words. As a leader, speaking is expected. Take the time and consider what is said and what kind of impact it can have on an individual. Consider the subtle things like the look on their face when they receive the information.

Over time, consider how communication affects the other person:

  • Will they tune out or turn off?
  • Will they feel judged or berated?
  • Will they rise to the occasion and perform better?

Feedback should always be delivered considering how and why, not who.

Prior to having any constructive feedback conversation, get oneself in check. Ask tough questions; I encourage journaling prior to holding the conversation. This is the difference between responding and reacting. Respond as the female leader; never react. Pull apart facts from feelings.

Reactions stem from emotions that may not illuminate what is going on, so before engaging in a tough office conversation or delivering feedback, ask these questions:

  • What is the purpose of the meeting with the direct report?
  • What is being conveyed? Can it be conveyed in less than five minutes?
  • Do I have all the information I need, or should I ask more questions prior to speaking? Is this an information-gathering session or a deliver-feedback session?
  • Am I angry/disappointed/confused with the situation? (If so, construct questions and don't deliver any feedback yet.)
  • Am I delivering feedback based on fact, or am I delivering criticism based off of judgment?
  • What do I get out of holding the meeting? Is there an electrical charge? (For example, from anger, being right, or pointing the finger at someone's mistake.)
  • If this is a deliver-feedback meeting, which three points do I need to cover? (Be succinct.)
  • What is the best outcome for the both of us?
  • Do I intend to have a follow-up conversation to see if the person processed the information and is making changes?

Notice I suggested being as succinct as possible. When being succinct, information is being delivered. If going past that, it's likely opinions or judgments—or an ego—is engaged.

Negative feedback doesn't have to be a negative experience—for anyone in the conversation.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn.

Elizabeth Lions is an international speaker and author on career management and leadership.

She is the author of three books,
Recession Proof Yourself and I Quit! Working for You Isn't Working for Me and a third book was released in 2017 on leadership, and is entitled, Hear Us Roar—Unapologetic Women Leading in Corporate America.

Many of Elizabeth's clients are women in male-dominated fields, who are looking for a crash course in how to lead and navigate the office. Many were passed over for promotion or not given the respect they deserve before encountering Elizabeth's message. Elizabeth has designed and developed leadership and career management courses, which have been given in the United States, Dubai, and the Middle East.

Elizabeth has read over 100,000 resumes in her career and hired thousands of professionals in some of America's top organization, such as Intel, Fiserv, Wells Fargo and Microsoft, Precision Castparts, and AT&T to name a few. An expert adviser on career conundrums, Elizabeth is well-known in the press, and has been quoted in Yahoo, The Ladders, and Dice job boards. Her words have reached as far as the front page of the Philadelphia Tribune, PBS, CBS Money Watch, Dale Carnegie, and John Tesh's blog.

Bottom line: Elizabeth knows why someone is hired, fired, or promoted—which is invaluable to women in today's climate. Understanding how to get along and get ahead in the office is top-of-mind for today's women of Corporate America. Elizabeth provides clarity where there was once confusion.

Today, Elizabeth can be found writing, coaching, and collaborating with the who's who of the Corporate America. When she isn't working, Elizabeth can be found traveling across state lines with her husband on their Harley Davidson motorcycle or in the yoga studio twisting for hours on end.

For more about Elizabeth's philosophies, programs, and videos, please visit

Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.

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