It is tough to give hard feedback. And, yet that is often just the kind of feedback that will challenge a mentee the most and make a quantum leap in their learning and development.

 Here’s an example from our recent book, The Mentee’s Guide: Making Mentoring Work for You.

“I am here today”, said a senior account executive at a recent seminar, “because I got hard feedback from a mentor who was willing to give it to me, and I was finally willing to hear it.” Avi shared these words with a group of mentors who were talking about providing feedback to their mentees.  Many in the group shared how hard it is to balance maintaining a good relationship with their mentee and to hold up a mirror to the mentee so they could identify the behaviors that are getting in their way. 

Avi made a plea to the mentors.  “Don’t give up on giving feedback.  Sometimes you have to be really direct and frank, even if it isn’t your style”.  I would not be the success I am today, if my mentor hadn’t sat me down, looked me in the eye and told me what I am doing is not working.  He said it, and I listened.  And in retrospect, it made me realize that a lot of other people were trying to tell me it wasn’t working, but I wasn’t hearing it.  Thank God I finally got it.”

Avi’s mentor gave the tough feedback he needed by holding a critical conversation with him. When you need to have a critical conversation, follow these six steps:

  1.  Talk about what you both have to gain by this conversation.

          “We both want you to be successful in your role.”

          “We both want to make sure that you achieve your goals.”

 2.  Talk about your observations as facts, but share your conclusions as your “story.”

          “You acknowledge that planning your staff meetings helps you stay organized and ensures you get results. So when you don’t use an agenda or create a plan for your meeting, it leads me to believe that you are really not committed to improving.”

 3.  Listen to their “story” to get their perspective.

          “What’s going on for you?”

          “Is that what’s happening or is it something else?

 4.  Develop new agreements.

          “What can I count on from you?”

          “What are you really prepared to do?”

 5. Summarize your agreements in an optimistic way.

          “So, we’ve agreed that….”

          “What I take away is that you are going to….”

 6. Follow up for accountability.  Provide positive reinforcement when you see evidence of change.

          “I see that you are really making an effort, and it is paying off.”

          “I appreciate that you really stretched here….”

How to Get The Tough Feedback You Need

Critical Conversations: What to Say and How to Say It