Handling Difficult Feedback Discussions

Handling Difficult Feedback Discussions

Margaret Cheng

35 years: Writer & HR Consultant

Most people avoid giving feedback to dodge difficult discussions. Join Margaret Cheng as she helps you navigate this minefield gracefully by using the SARAH model.

Most people avoid giving feedback to dodge difficult discussions. Join Margaret Cheng as she helps you navigate this minefield gracefully by using the SARAH model.

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Handling Difficult Feedback Discussions

10 mins 25 secs

Overview

Human beings are complex and human relationships are never completely straightforward. Each workplace adds a unique layer of issues to unpick, and organisational dynamics can be difficult to navigate. The SARAH model is specifically aimed at helping people understand how a recipient of feedback might react, and the support that might be needed at each stage. The 5 stages of the model are: shock, anger, resistance, action and honest effort.

Key learning objectives:

  • Understand what makes feedback difficult

  • Outline the SARAH model

  • Identify the 4 main feedback models

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Summary
What makes feedback difficult? 
Human beings are complex and human relationships are never completely straightforward. Each workplace adds a unique layer of issues to unpick, and organisational dynamics can be difficult to navigate. According to the Chartered Management Institute: “A difficult conversation is one whose primary subject matter is potentially contentious and/or sensitive and may elicit strong, complex emotions that can be hard to predict or control.” This is because of the mass of confusing and conflicting emotions that lurk just under the surface of any difficult feedback conversation. Your emotions will do their best to try and drag you down so that you lose your way and your conversation feels impossible. 

What is the SARAH model? 
The SARAH model is specifically aimed at helping people understand how a recipient of feedback might react, and the support that might be needed at each stage. It is based on the Kübler-Ross curve (also known as the 5 stages of grief). 

Shock: People need time to absorb and process what you’re saying in private. You might want to have one conversation and then suggest another meeting another day, even if you're on a video call. 

Anger: People may seem to take it on board initially but then get angry and want to argue. This is part of the process so you should try not to take this personally or get defensive. 

Resistance: People may want to be defensive, to reject your feedback, to decide it is not their fault. People can get very stuck at this point. It is important to provide facts and information and to reinforce that your goal is to work together to find a way forward. Plenty of time and patience are required at this stage.

Action: This is when change can start to happen, and people can plan and build strategies. There may need to be some back and forth here.

Honest effort: Change takes time, nothing happens overnight and even if feedback is accepted, old habits die hard. Encourage honest effort and give people time. This is where a lot of organisations fall down.

What are the 4 main feedback models and how do they intersect? 

  1. The giving good feedback framework is aimed at observable behaviours and the impact of these behaviours on you, the work required and the team
  2. The FORCES model explores how to give this feedback 
  3. The PACES models helps you interrogate your feedback, so that you always have clear examples and challenge your own perceptions
  4. The SARAH model helps deal with the emotions around giving feedback

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Margaret Cheng

Margaret Cheng

Margaret Cheng, a freelance writer, HR consultant, and executive coach, has spent the last year researching and writing a book, "Giving Good Feedback." With 30 years of experience in various sectors, including retail, financial services, consultancies, and charities, she has written on business-related topics for HR, outplacement, and career coaching consultancies and CIPD magazine. She will be incorporating her experience and book into her videos to discuss feedback and its potential for professional development and learning.

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