The art of giving feedback is a crucial skill that can define the trajectory of your leadership career. Your ability to do it well can build trust, improve performance and create fierce loyalty from those around you. Do it badly and…well… you can seriously damage relationships, stifle creativity and create a culture of fear. And that’s shitty boss territory. It’s a balancing act that many people simply prefer to simply avoid.
Everyone's favourite model
Radical Candor, the model popularised by Kim Scott, has emerged as a beacon of transparency in communication and many of our clients ask us to include it as the core framework for feedback that they want their teams to follow. But on its own, we don’t think it’s enough. We’ve seen too many examples of how it’s used bluntly and without the “care personally” aspect really taken into consideration (something that Scott herself describes as “the asshole quarter”). Using Radical Candor, many people walk away with an understanding of why they should give more feedback, but not necessarily how to do it with the care it requires.
In reality, "Care Personally" is about demonstrating empathy and respect for individuals, irrespective of personal feelings. It involves acknowledging their contributions, understanding their aspirations, and recognising the challenges they face. This level of personal investment lays the groundwork for a constructive, human to human, feedback conversation.
Unfortunately, this nuance is often overlooked, leading to the perception that emotional bonds are required for effective feedback and in absence of that, “just give it bluntly as at least that’s half the way there!”. Hello toxic work culture.
So while we love Radical Candour for impressing the need to give feedback and get out of your ruinous empathy comfort zone, we prefer to put more emphasis on how to give feedback in a way that doesn’t create a defensive reaction. And that requires care and coaching skills.
Adding care into your feedback with COIN
We have adapted the COIN model, which was originally created by executive coach Anna Carroll, to add more care into the framework rather than just focusing on context as per the original model. For Coachable, COIN stands for:
O - OBSERVATION
I - IMPACT
N - NEXT STEPS
Let's look at each of these steps and how to use them.
The crucial first step of CARE is all about planning what you want to say and adding in the empathetic approach that is often missing from many feedback conversations:
Before you even get to the feedback you need to give, you need to hold the mirror up too and answer these questions as part of the first stage of the model:
What’s driving the need to give the feedback? How will this help them?
What assumptions might you be making?
What else could have impacted this situation?
What do you need to acknowledge about your contribution?
What else might be going on for the person?
When would be a good time to have this conversation?
How will you invite them to have the feedback conversation?
Now that last question is crucial. Our first rule of feedback at Coachable is to never say “Can I give you some feedback”. Those words can instantly trigger a fear response in the other person, which stops them listening on a creative level. We challenge you to come up with alternative ways of starting a feedback conversation, which makes it a collaborative coaching conversation.
Try instead: Thank you so much for leading the presentation this morning. I’d love for us to do a bit of a retro ahead of the second pitch next week. When would be a good time for us to catch up?
The more effort and time you put into the CARE aspect of the conversation by really thinking through your words and your reasoning, the better your feedback will land and the more likely it will be that this will just be a conversation, not a difficult conversation.
When did it happen?
Where did you observe the behaviour?
Who was involved?
What specifically happened?
The second part of the framework is all about stating what you observed using non-judgemental language. We like the phrases “I noticed” for constructive feedback or “I really appreciated…” for positive feedback to start this part of the conversation. Both of these phrases present the observation as a point of view, not a statement of fact. Avoid using words like ‘always’ or ‘never’ at this point which can sound all encompassing and absolute. “You’re always late” will get you a defensive reaction. “I noticed that you were late this morning” is a statement of fact.
The other part of this, which removes defensiveness, is switching to an ‘I’ statement rather than a ‘you’ statement. If you say “You did this, you did that” to someone they will instinctively defend themselves. By flipping the ownership of the feedback to ourselves and saying “I felt X” or “I noticed X” we encourage the other person to listen empathetically to our perspective rather than defending their own. Simple stuff, but it makes a HUGE difference.
What impact did it have?
How did you feel?
What were the consequences?
This part of the model aims to answer the question ‘so what?’. We’re looking to share the consequences of the behaviour to help the other person consider the impact they are having (or not having). Without this key piece, there’s no real reason for that person to change. Again, we’re looking to build empathy on both sides here so use ‘I’ language to express how something made you feel or how it impacted results.
And this part of feedback is equally important for both positive and critical feedback. Just throwing out praise like “Great job” can be just as disheartening to receive as clumsy constructive feedback. If we don’t know what was great, what impact it had and the consequences, then how do we know what to repeat?
What would you like them to replicate?
What are their views on next steps?
What would you like them to do differently next time?
The final stage of the model is to agree on the next steps, something that the SBI feedback model doesn't include as explicitly which is why we choose COIN as our model of choice. Make this a two-way, collaborative coaching conversation where the goal is to encourage them to come up with key learnings and the next steps. Put your coaching hat on. Only once you’ve done this and exhausted all of their ideas should you throw in your own offerings. And remember, this doesn't all have to happen in the same conversation. Sometimes we need time to reflect on feedback to really accept it before we can acknowledge the change we need to create. Always give people an opportunity to take some time to do this and then reconvene a couple of days later to discuss next steps.
So there you have it. By combining Radical Candor's commitment to direct communication and genuine care with our COIN Model's emphasis on creating a coaching conversation, a more human approach to feedback can emerge.
Our ongoing challenge to you is to come up with as many ways of saying “Can I give you some feedback” without using those words!
We’d love to hear them so do let us know.
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About the author:
Co-founder at Coachable
Executive Coach, Forbes Coaches Council member, Board advisor and facilitator with 22 years of experience in leadership and strategy roles. Now a coach to some of Europe's fastest-growing tech companies. Design lover. Mine’s a G&T.
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