This is where many communicators waver and go all positive, telling the expert first and foremost what a good job they've done. But if you're walking on eggshells when you give feedback to the expert you're working with, frankly, you're doomed to fail. At the same time, you don't want to scare or annoy your expert right out of the task at hand.
"How can I give negative feedback without discouraging the expert I'm working with?" is one of the questions and challenges posed by participants who'll be attending my June 19 workshop for communicators, 'Be an Expert on Working with Experts.' Here are some of the tactics we'll be discussing:
- Let the trainee do the honors: "How do you think you did?" is always the first question out of my mouth after an expert tries a practice run for an interview or speech. Once they've told you what they noticed, you get to chime in.
- Speak in "I" statements: Work on providing feedback from your perspective as an expert communicator. Rather than an accusatory-sounding "You shouldn't do that," try "I'd prefer to see you state it this way, so we avoid the appearance that you're dodging the question. I know you aren't trying to do that, but I couldn't quite tell from the way you said that--and it may leave a question in the audience's mind." If you can explain and reinforce with "I" statements, you'll have a more willing listener for your negative feedback.
- Provide a solution along with the feedback: Don't dish out negative feedback without a healthy side dish of useful tips to fix the problem. Your expert will get refocused on change faster if you can suggest a path for how to do so.