Setting the Stage for Sharing Feedback That Feels Hard To Give

It’s still March, and we’re still exploring different types of conversations that pop up a lot in our day-to-day at Vestalia (and, let’s face it, in all parts of our lives).  Turning the spotlight on feedback this week.

Initiating conversations where you need to share feedback with a person to get them back on track because something about their behavior or performance is missing is an integral part of being a leader.  Engaging with a team member that is struggling to help them understand what’s getting in their way of success and facilitating their growth is truly an expression of care and support for them – so why is it so difficult to do?  Emotions on both sides of the conversation are running high and tilted toward fear; as the “giver of hard feedback to hear” it’s your responsibility to create a safe space for you and them to accept that it’s hard and move through it anyway.  The following article is all about gearing up to say the thing that needs to be said.  If you don’t already have a great process for that, practicing this one will strengthen your feedback muscle and make giving it on the fly or with plenty of time to prepare an interaction that builds trust and growth for both of you.

Speaking of feedback, do you have any you want to share with me?  Are you energized, frustrated, or bored after reading this?  What’s clicking with you and useful?  What’s causing you to roll your eyes?  I’m open and ready for your insight.

Thank you for your time, and Happy Spring!


Setting the Stage for Sharing Feedback that Feels Hard to Give

By Becky Lemon, 3/27/19

Photo by Wynand van Poortvliet on Unsplash

When someone isn’t showing up the way you need them to and it could or is already leading to conflict, the situation calls for action.  Maybe they’re not meeting set expectations and you need to get them back on track, maybe they’re not “breaking any rules”, still, their attitude or behavior is affecting well-being (their own, the team’s, your’s, and/or the guest’s) and a positive change is required.  Recognizing the need is one thing, being in conversation with them about it can be hard. Really hard. If you’re the one to get in there and talk with them – and you are if you’re aware of the issue and you care about them and their growth – there are ways to prepare for the conversation that will help you weather its inevitable discomfort together and set both of you up for a meaningful exchange.  

The numerous variables and emotions of any situation involving people giving and receiving feedback are often intricately twisted and messy.  It’s daunting to think about how to pull any order out of it all to clear a path toward a conversation that can both cut to the chase and keep everyone in it feeling respected, valued, and supported.  The following steps describe a feedback prep checklist that you can dive into as deeply or basically as possible given the time you have to get ready for the conversation.


Get Oriented

Grounding yourself in the “why” of a conversation, what you hope to achieve by being in it, and what it looks and feels like if the interaction is successful before jumping into “how” you’re going to move through it is key.  It sets you up to maintain both integrity and flexibility as you navigate the uncertain paths that the conversation can take you on.  Reflect on and be super clear about the following fundamentals. You should feel confident about what you’ve defined and able to articulate the details to someone else.  Consider asking others to help you determine the answers to these questions, their point of view could enhance your understanding of the whole situation and will ensure their alignment and support of any plans that might follow.


  • Define the purpose of the conversation – why is it happening?
  • Define your desired end results – what needs to be achieved by having this conversation?  
  • Identify how you’ll know the interaction has been satisfying and effective – what does success look and feel like when the conversation is over?
  • If you’re afraid that you might dial down the importance of your feedback or leave parts of it out completely for any reason (e.g., you don’t want to hurt their feelings,  you don’t know how to say it without sounding too harsh, etc.), answer and keep this note in mind: I’ll be really disappointed if ____ goes unsaid or I don’t get _____ across and discussed.    


Once you’re clear on the content of what needs to be said, determine if you’re having one or more “types” of conversations.  For example, depending on the results you’re going for, you might lead with candid feedback* – where you’re supportively and directly pointing out the thing that is getting in the way of a person’s success – and follow up with either:

dialogue –  now that you know what’s up, let’s figure out together what’s really going on and find a new direction we can both commit to


direction – now that you know what’s up, here’s what I need you to do (N.B., this route is best reserved for emergencies, situations where decisions need to be made from one source on the spot, or to promote extreme clarity for a team member who has not been responding well to dialogue)


Spend Some Time Thinking About Them

Until you’re actually in it, you know a lot more about the nature of this conversation than they do. That’s a scary place for them to start from.  You won’t really know what they’ll need to make the conversation as comfortable as possible and you might not get the chance to ask, so engaging in a bit of empathy and going into it with your best-guesses for creating a safe environment is better than going in without a plan.

Try putting yourself in their shoes and imagine what fears might pop up for them or what might feel threatening to them once they’re aware that feedback is coming (and remember, those fears might have to do more with their own past experiences and mental models than the reality of their current situation or relationship with you).  Could they think that talking to “the boss” might mean they’ll lose their job or some responsibilities they like having? Could they be afraid that they’ll just get “talked to” and be denied the chance to explain their point of view? Could they be embarrassed about their behavior, and expecting to experience a major shame-fest from you or in front of you?

Anticipate what might trigger them to put their shields up and figure out how you could help prevent that or keep them low. Being mindful of even the simplest details can go a long way toward that end, for example you may consider the following:


  • Where is the best location to talk?  Private, public, noisy, quiet…
  • How far in advance do I invite them into the conversation?  Days, hours, minutes…
  • How do I invite them into it?  Face to face, email, text…
  • When do we have it?  Before or after a shift, on their day off…
  • Should anyone else be in this conversation with us?  Who and why?
  • What tone do I want to set with our check-in?  Serious, light-hearted, casual, formal…
  • What information do I lead with?  Purpose, end results, my intentions, acknowledge their strengths…
  • Which non-verbals will send a clear, intentional message to them about where I’m coming from?  Leaning in toward them or leaning back, nodding or remaining still while listening, uncrossing or crossing my arms, engaged in or avoiding eye contact…


Recognize and accept that it will be hard for both of you, it’s within that discomfort where growth and trust are intensified.  


Now, Turn Attention to Yourself

You, the giver of feedback, are in this too and have some decisions to make about how you’re going to show up.  Find a partner if you can and dig a little into what you’re bringing into the conversation – are you clear on your intent for being in it, and does it align with your values?  Do you have any judgments or assumptions about this person or the situation, how do you challenge them or turn them into questions to ask? Have you established a solid, trusting relationship with this person, if not, what steps could you take to grow that throughout the conversation?  What strengths are you bringing into this that can help you and the other person, how will you utilize them?

I could go on, and seriously, call me if you want to talk more about all of this.  In the meantime, Brené Brown shared a great checklist of her own in her book Daring Greatly (and a lot of other amazing resources on her website,, about how to show up in feedback and it goes like this:

Engaged Feedback Checklist

Once you’ve got a grounded sense of what the conversation is all about and you’ve got ideas on how to honor the other person and yourself throughout it, give it a go.  There is no “one script to rule them all” when it comes to saying the thing that needs to be said to someone to facilitate their path back to well-being. Your best bet is to be prepared so you can lean with intention into all of the twists and turns the conversation will take and still come out the other end with satisfying and effective results for them, you, and the whole team.  

*Want to dig into another resource regarding giving feedback?  Click here to view a 21 minute video of Kim Scott, author of the book Radical Candor, explaining how the amount of care you’ve established in your relationship with the person and how directly or indirectly you share your feedback has a major impact on how the feedback will be received.


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