It’s uncomfortable to offer what we perceive to be unflattering feedback. Whether we do it out of genuine concern or because someone asks for our opinion, we must tread carefully, yet provide honest feedback, particularly to other business owners.
One way to set a more comfortable tone for your conversation is to start by making positive statements about their successful experiences or approaches they’ve taken.
Dale Carnegie’s Method of Providing Feedback
The principles Dale Carnegie articulated in his 1936 book, How to Win Friends and Influence People still apply today. He advises us to: “Begin with praise and honest appreciation.” Starting with positive attributes and even rehearsing an opening statement helps make both of you more comfortable in a feedback conversation.
Carnegie also suggests that we “Talk about our own mistakes”. This demonstrates our understanding that we’re all just “works in progress” and goes a long way to showing that you’re genuinely concerned in supporting this person’s success.
He goes on to recommend that we ask questions instead of giving direction. Let’s say, for example, a business owner asks for feedback about a presentation he gave in which he missed a critical piece of information. Rather than directly pointing out the omission, Carnegie’s approach might sound like: “In the competitive analysis you’ did a great job of showing X. What did you find out about Y?”
Providing Honest Feedback Builds Trust and Respect
Like any relationship, business relationships can grow deeper over time. And as in any relationship, honest communication builds trust and respect. Respecting other business owners enough to offer (and accept) constructive feedback builds relationships that are strong enough to last no matter where your careers take you.
We’ve all heard the saying “charity begins at home”. In this case, a mutually supportive and strong network begins with collaboration, public support of and honest communication with other business owners.
Leah Ward-Lee is a entrepreneur and business writer based in Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island, Florida and the author of $1,000 Start-Ups.