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Chickening Out on Difficult Feedback

Posted by Julie • November 4, 2014 (Last modified July 29, 2018) • 2 min read

Quick story of a chicken.

Have you ever had to give difficult feedback or ask a difficult question and chickened out in the end? You’re not alone!

I was listening to the This American Life  podcast this weekend, a recent show called “The Secret Recordings of Carmen Segarra.”  Summary: in 2012, Fed regulator Carmen Segarra uncovers a situation which requires the Fed to ask some pointed questions of financial giant Goldman Sachs. 

Carmen’s supervisor Mike talks tough internally and wants to “put a a big shot across the bow” at Goldman Sachs at an upcoming meeting. He wants to be the one to ask the hard questions of Goldman.

Long story short, meeting happens, Mike waits until the very end as things are wrapping up, and ultimately he back pedals and asks a gentle question of Goldman. They barely notice “the shot across the bow.”

The Fed chickened out on the tough questions? Oh, the humanity!

Back to our HR world and performance.

I’m a chicken, too.

How many times do we talk tough in our minds when there’s a work issue we need to confront and in the end, we can’t muster the courage to deliver the straight message?

Or, how many times have we thought we needed to deliver a tough message and just when we’re about to give that someone a piece of our mind…we find out they had a reason. A good reason, even.

I’ve been there. It’s even a little cathartic to admit it out loud.

Tough talk can be personally uncomfortable. Sometimes we’ve got to muster the courage to deliver it. Maybe that’s what should have happened at the Fed.

Mostly though, we just need to start conversations.

Try a sentence starter, like these:

Statements that open the door for conversation are usually more effective than a shot across the bow. Here are some sentence starters that might help (thanks @meredithwallace for these)

  • When you said…
  • What do you recommend as next steps?
  • How did you see it?
  • The way I was impacted…
  • Given this, we agree to…
  • What would you suggest?
  • What I expect…
  • I suggest you try…
  • I would consider saying/doing…
  • The impact that had for them was…
  • Did you get the result you wanted?
  • During the meeting I remember you…
  • You might think about…
  • I am requesting something different…
  • I noticed the impact on the group…

Make Work Matter.