How to manage the anxiety of giving negative feedback
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One of the most integral parts of a manager’s job is providing performance feedback and holding people accountable. So much so that it can’t be abdicated or delegated to someone else.
And yet, managers often avoid these types of conversations. Just the prospect of giving feedback on another person’s performance triggers an immediate increase in heart rate—a sign the body is going into “fight-or-flight” mode.
The resulting anxiety can be especially stressful when the intended recipient of feedback is more knowledgeable and experienced than the person giving it.
To avoid the emotional buildup to delivering feedback in situations where you’re leading a team of experts, it helps to address the elephant in the room from the moment you join the team. Rather than letting your insecurities lead you to pretend to have more knowledge than you do, acknowledge your senior team members’ experience and expertise upfront and ask for their help in bringing you up to speed.
Create clarity around your expectations and check on your individual team members’ capabilities to meet them, before agreeing on milestones and what success on a given project or initiative looks like.
Let them know that you’ll be providing regular feedback along the way so people know where they stand in terms of their performance, and that you’ll be asking for theirs as well, to learn how you can be more helpful in supporting them.
We can reduce the intensity of negative emotions by using science-backed emotion regulation strategies to intervene in the four-step process that generally gives rise to emotions such as fear, anger, and sadness.
The process starts with a situation—real or imagined. One strategy to keep your anxiety in check at this stage of the emotion generation process would be situation avoidance.
The second step is the attention paid to a particular, often threatening aspect of a situation.
The intervention strategy in this step of the emotion generation process would involve intentionally changing your focus, and instead of ruminating about something negative that might happen, focusing instead on positive aspects, such as a feedback recipient’s leadership potential or the value they contribute to the team and the organization.
The third step is what called appraisal. So when we would think of providing negative feedback (the situation), and focused (attention) on what we expected would be strongly negative reactions by our team, the meaning (appraisal) we assigned to providing feedback was that our team would resent our “incompetence” and hate working for us.
Our appraisal of a situation then leads to the fourth step in the emotion-generation process, the emotional response.
After gaining insight into the neurological process by which our anxieties were generated, We learned We could take control and change the meaning We assigned to the act of providing feedback, rather than defaulting to the automatic assumption our brain made that our team would resent us.
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Giving feedback and feeling anxious.
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