First, people should learn how to attend to the emotional aspect of these conversations. It’s important to recognize the fear of feedback triggered in the other, the anxiety the giver may be feeling, as well as a whole myriad of other emotions such as anger, sorrow, self-doubt, and perhaps even betrayal.
Just by being aware of - and acknowledging - the emotional dimension, it helps us be better prepared for these types of conversations. If someone has an emotional outburst, we are less likely to be thrown off our guard. The acknowledgment also helps make the emotional reaction more acceptable, rather than something we should be ashamed of or try to hide.
Second, help people focus work on developing more empathy: our ability to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes, or understand where they’re coming from when they explain the reasons behind a specific situation.
Third, focus on developing active listening skills. This allows people to be even more attuned to what’s happening during the conversation itself, by paying attention to the finer details such as body language, or what is not being openly said but is implied.
By working on these aspects you can help people build their confidence, in turn allowing them to deliver more effective feedback and handle the conversations better overall.
Going beyond conversation skills
Individuals need to work on their conversation skills, but you also need to foster the right environment at work. That means creating the psychological safety for people to feel able to speak openly and honestly with each other.
There needs to be enough trust in place to know that people are sharing feedback with each other with honest intentions, and that people are not trying out-do each other (i.e. unhealthy competition).
As Sarah Rozenthuler says, “psychological safety is vital to a breakthrough conversation”. Once the fear and anticipation is taken out of feedback conversations, employees will feel more able to have other important and sometimes difficult conversations that may lead them to openly disagree or challenge one another. But out of these moments great ideas can be born as creativity is sparked, and people can feel more energized and engaged than when they are stuck in the status quo.