What is assertive feedback?
To provide assertive feedback means to communicate with others in a respectful, coherent, and clear way. When we give assertive feedback at work, instead of just criticizing what others have done, we should show them ways to improve their work.
Being assertive doesn’t mean always agreeing with everything, nor does it mean pretending not to see the mistakes that others have made. It also doesn’t mean you need to have a smile on your face all the time. Being assertive means communicating verbally and non-verbally without being aggressive. However, an assertive person will strongly convey the message he/she wants the interlocutor to receive.
The ultimate goal of any kind of feedback is that everybody wins. If you are a manager providing feedback, your goal is to make an employee understand how to have good work performance, or even better, help him/her discover how to do the job better. Your goal is to empower that person so that he/she achieves the objectives you both have agreed on, without causing too much negative stress.
As a leader, in order to achieve this win-win situation, you will need to be very conscious of yourself and of the repercussions of your thoughts and actions. You will need to stop arriving at unsupported conclusions so that you can stimulate creativity and also improve your relationship with your team.
When providing assertive feedback, our goal is not to hurt others; the goal is to help them do a better job and feel better about themselves.
Before you start a feedback meeting or write a message, pause and think about the person you are communicating with. Think about how you are going to express what you want from the other person; this way, instead of that person feeling sad and useless after the meeting, he/she will feel energized and ready to show you how well he/she can do.
When providing feedback, present your ideas with conviction, but always keep yourself under control. If the person receiving the feedback perceives anger, he/she will respond by putting up a barrier and you will not be able to get through to that person.
The more self-control you show, the more people will recognize you as a professional. The team will perceive you as somebody that wants to create consensus and that is clearly oriented towards building a team and achieving objectives, not towards making people feel bad about their work.
Why should I practice assertive feedback?
If you want your team to achieve their goals with minimum stress and in a creative way, you need to shift to assertive feedback. When we provided feedback with sensitivity, we are encouraging and guiding the people in front of us to succeed; on the other hand, if we give feedback with aggression and that lacks in empathy, we are discouraging employees and decreasing their motivation.
1. More energy
When we receive assertive feedback, we feel more positive and hopeful. We are able to think more about the future and its possibilities. We feel like we can achieve the goals that are presented to us, and we put more energy into them. It will be your job, as a leader and manager, to channel energy into the right places.
If your team is running out of energy, try some of the tips provided in this article, and if you practice them from the heart, you will see a slow improvement of your team’s motivation. It will be slow because, more than likely, they are working in a semi-toxic environment, but it is never too late to change!
2. Better relationships
Assertive feedback creates a safe environment and improves the sense of belonging in a team. When we are assertive and willing to help, our way of doing is attractive to others. Not only will we have more chances of career growth, but our team members will also feel more motivated, and more than likely, they will start to adopt your communication style in the ways that they interact with others.
3. More creativity
When assertive feedback is provided to us, we tend to feel more excited about trying something new and in experimenting. In the right environment, assertive feedback can create teams that are not too intimidated to take minimum risks and that confront problems and try to find solutions.
If your team is stuck and only follows directions, try to take an assertive focus. This way, you will have a team that is more self-assured, more optimistic, knows its own strengths, and puts them into play to defeat challenges.
How to provide assertive feedback
Be clear with your words
Express your ideas, thoughts, feelings, needs, preferences, and opinions in the clearest way. Provide examples and be as specific as you can. Do not make general comments; the more specific you are, the closer your will be to providing assertive feedback.
Being helpful doesn’t mean doing the work for others, nor does it mean teaching them exactly how to do something step-by-step and expecting them to follow all of your instructions. Being helpful means showing them the way and guiding them towards their goals. Guide them by using examples, drawings, questions, etc.
Practice active listening
In our society, we are taught to be quick and to judge others, where as soon as they stop talking, we have something to say. Try to avoid thinking about what you will say when it is your turn, and try to listen to what the other person has to say. Move the focus from you to the person that is talking to you. Stop thinking about your reply, and listen to the person speaking; listen to him/her carefully.
If you practice active listening, you will have more information about the other person because you will have paid more attention to the conversation. Also, the person that is talking will quickly realize that you are giving your full attention to what they are saying, which will give them an increase in confidence.
Try not to judge
Try not to jump to fast conclusions without having the right information. We tend to make quick assumptions about ourselves and the people around us. Before deciding that you know something, try to think about the information that you have; is it enough to make an accurate statement? Is it accurate, or are you just being insecure?
Before making a statement about somebody’s poor performance at work, try to think of what the causes might be, and focus on solving those causes more than giving feedback that you know will demotivate that person.
If you disagree with somebody, just say it with respect and honesty in a non-aggressive way. Always respect other people’s opinions.
Thinking about the other person
Before starting the feedback, whether is face-to-face or by email, takes a moment to think about the team member that is going to receive your message. Go through the topics you want to talk about, and rehearse how you are going to present each topic in an assertive and constructive way; the more honest and helpful you are, the more you will get out of that conversation.
Shifting to assertive feedback might sound like a lot of work, but we guarantee that, after practicing for a few weeks, it will start to come naturally, and you won’t even need to think about it twice!
Be assertive with your body
80% of the messages we receive come from body language, so you need to be very aware of the message you are conveying with your body. Non-verbal communication carries assertive behavior as much as your words. If you are truly assertive, you won’t have a problem. Here are some forms of body language that show confidence, respect, and sincerity:
- When listening, provide direct eye contact: this will show that you understand the other person and that you are fully listening to what he/she is saying.
- Keep your arms semi-open as a sign of openness and trust.
- Keep your back straight: it shows that you are paying attention, and that you are interested. It also helps you stay alert.
- Use facial expressions: Smile if you are pleased and frown if you don’t like something. Try to avoid these expressions when you are listening, otherwise you will condition the discourse of the person talking to you.
Provide specific feedback
Try not to be too vague with your feedback so your team can understand better what you are referring to and can improve their work in a more efficient way.
If you are on the other side, where it is your manager that is being too vague, ask specific questions like:
- “Could you please give me some examples about…?”
- “What makes you think that I don’t care about this project?”
- “What specifically do you not like about my work?”
- “Are you upset because we delivered the last product late?”
- “I am not sure if I understand what your perception of the issue is.”
Try to pinpoint the specific moment when things went wrong. This is the best way to avoid manipulations and feedback that hurts us.
Find equilibrium between being too vague and too specific; if you are too specific, people will not see the big picture and your discourse will lose some strength. Provide examples and try to be as honest as you can.
Other elements that can help you provide assertive feedback:
- Keep a positive attitude.
- Get to know your team; learn what each person’s passion is and what makes him/her thrive.
- Call people by their names. It is the best way to interact with them.
- Provide regular feedback.
If you follow some of the tips we gave in this article, you will be one step closer to a more effective, happier, and goal-oriented team. Do you have other tips? Share them with us!
PS: Have some burning questions to ask? Drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I answer every email.
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