We need to tailor feedback to peoples' emotional states.
Since emotions always follow us into the workplace, this post will equip you with the scripts to ensure that your coworker feels supported - and not triggered - no matter their present feelings.
The Feedback Meter, displayed below, provides a qualitative framework for you to respond effectively to your coworker's emotional state.
Let's apply the Feedback Meter to your 1-on-1 feedback session with your hypothetical direct-report named Jimmy:
PART 1: What's On Your Mind?
Start your conversation by asking, "What's on you mind?" This open ended question allows your coworker to voice what is truly pertinent in day and/or the project.
The employee will take his answer wherever he wants. He may dive confidently into the project discussion, in which case you can talk shop. He may voice emotional frustration - in both body language and words - in which case, you can use the following scripts to add an extra layer of support.
PART 2: Tailoring Feedback
Below are Jimmy's five emotional states and scripts for an effective response.
Depressed (-1) Jimmy had a rough day. He just found out that his daughter is failing a few classes in school. His wife just lost her job so he feels an extra financial weight. He can barely pay attention to his new work project, let alone perform.
Body Language: His posture is hunched, he laughs a little too much or too little. His eyes dart away from yours as he mumbles. His caught in his head.
Your Script: "I've noticed you seem stressed recently. I can say personally, when I'm very stressed I'm way less productive at work. I’d love to listen or support in any way I can. No worries if not."
The passive offer of support allows him to choose whether it would help or not. Your vulnerability to mention your past stressful experiences gives the coworker encouragement and permission to voice their own. The "what do you think?" puts your offer as a choice in their hands.
Unsure (0) Jimmy is unsure about his approach to his new project. He just joined the team, read a bunch of articles, but his strategy feels like a shot in the dark. He feels like a failure.
Body Language: A glimmer of hope shines through between intermittent stutters. He's jittery, hands tapping and sliding the table as he changes positions in his chair. He's hesitant to jump into the conversation and feels relieved when you take the lead.
Your Script: "How are you feeling about the project? I’m thinking it may be most productive to start our meeting by talking about our approach. You can share how you are thinking about it, I can share how I’m thinking. Hopefully, together we’ll ensure that we are on the right track. What do you think?"
This script works because it's a strength-based approach: you suggest a method to accomplish more by tag-teaming the strategy, before diving into execution. This allows you both to broach your coworker's uncertainty without drawing attention to his lack of confidence.
Excited (1) Jimmy is excited about his new project but a little insecure about it. He feels confident about his strategy but feels sensitive to criticism.
Body language: He's quick to respond and smiley. There's a slight tension in the room as if he is protecting his work. His legs and arms cross in a brief moment of defensiveness, but overall, he appears ready and prepared for the check-in.
Your Script: "I like you did [x approach]. Consider doing [y approach] to make it better in [z ways]. What I like best is what you did here. Great work! What do you think?"
Since Jimmy is excited, you can deliver feedback on what he is doing well and what he can improve (see post on two-way feedback with your managers). This creates a positive tone and encourages him to continue his effective practices and grow as needed.
Feeling Good (2) Jimmy is feeling good about the project. The work felt manageable and he’s ready for constructive feedback on how to improve it.
Body Language: He maintains strong eye contact. His posture is upright and he speaks clearly about his work.
Your Script: "Nice! Consider doing [y approach] to make it better in [z ways]. Keep it up! What do you think?""
Given his confidence, this script serves the same role as the (1) approach but is more direct and spends less time on encouragement.
Thrilled (3) Jimmy is thrilled to forward his project and feels secure about himself. He even feels ready to take on bigger challenges.
Body Language: Your meeting feels like busy work because he's on point with most of his tactics. You don't have much to contribute and the conversation feels more like a formality than a useful discussion.
Script: "Looks great. My only suggestion is [z idea]. I wonder how you can level up on this work? What do you think? ... Here are some suggestions. Have you read [z's book]? Consider checking out [y thought leader's blog]. Perhaps you should grab coffee with someone who is an expert in your field of work.”
This script enables you to challenge your employee to push the bounds of their own development. Your role becomes directing your coworker to resources - articles, books, and people - to channel his ambition.
Let's not be mistaken. You can't play therapist to the detriment of your company. If someone is underperforming you may need to pull the plug.
The point of the Feedback Meter approach is to improve your coworker's performance.
Language has the power to give people comfort and strength when they need it most.