Feedback Frenzy: Delivering the Good and the Bad and Making it Worthwhile
“You’re doing great! Just keep on doing what you’re doing!”
“Good job with that report!”
That’s positive feedback, right?
Well, it’s better than nothing, I suppose. But what if you could give authentic, helpful feedback that affirms your organization’s values while encouraging and growing your people and nurturing the culture?
The thought of reflecting and commenting on someone’s actions, talents, and shortcomings can feel uncomfortable at best, yet giving good feedback pays great dividends!
Feedback is a hot topic in culture building conversations, but it doesn’t have to burn you.
First, the Why
When it comes to our own talents and inabilities, we all have blind spots. And, well delivered, thoughtful feedback shines the light of truth on what we do well and the things that we don’t yet do well. If we aren’t given this data about our behaviors and shown targets for growth, we neither improve our skills nor do we learn how to magnify our gifts.
High quality, skillfully delivered feedback (both positive and negative) is:
behavior-based (you interrupt people in meetings) instead of personality-based (you don’t treat people well).
development oriented. It offers the receiver an opportunity to use existing skills or develop lacking skills that allows them to grow professionally and helps the company.
Pause for Positive Feedback
Giving positive feedback - telling people what they are great at - is undervalued and underperformed. We think we know where our talents lie and we think others do too, but that’s not always the case. And even if we do, isn’t it encouraging and motivating when your unique talents are recognized professionally? Also, sometimes, we don’t know how to use the skills and talents that we know we have in the most professionally beneficial way.
Here’s an example of positive feedback that is specific, behavior-centered, and development oriented:
Manager: “Hey Maira, your spreadsheets rock! They are clear, concise, and easy to read. You are uniquely gifted at taking a whole bunch of information and quickly distilling it to its essence and then clearly laying it out so that it is actually useful. I really appreciate this skill of yours!”
Maira: “Really? It’s no big deal… I’m just doing my job… but, thanks!”
Manager: “Maira! It’s huge! I’ve never known anyone who can do that as quickly and clearly as you. Business Analytics seems to be drowning in data on this new project, and they could really use your help sorting it out and refining the useful bits. How would you feel about using your skills to help move this project forward?”
The Messiness of Giving Negative Feedback
You’re a nice person and you want to be a good boss – you don’t want to make people feel sad or scared, (please don’t cry!), nor do you want to put yourself in uncomfortable situations by telling someone about their shortcomings or failures. No one does. Feedback giving, especially negative feedback, is deeply relational and vulnerable, and thus, messy.
For several years beginning in the 1990s, researchers posited that it is best to give only positive feedback and to talk only about the positive behaviors of your staff. Currently, researchers are rethinking this strategy because offering only positive feedback fails to promote growth and self-awareness. You do yourself, your company, and your team no favors by not talking about professional behaviors that need attention and growth. Granted, delivering negative feedback takes special care and skill to avoid unnecessary embarrassment and pain - for both the giver and the receiver.
Equip Yourself for Effective Feedback
You can ease the difficulty and discomfort involved in feedback giving discussions with a little bit of personal preparation. Brene Brown in Dare to Lead gives a checklist to follow to let you know when you are ready to skillfully give someone feedback. Here’s her checklist.
I KNOW I’M READY TO GIVE FEEDBACK WHEN:
1. I’m ready to sit next to you rather than across from you.
2. I’m willing to put the problem in front of us rather than between us (or slide it toward you).
3. I’m ready to listen, ask questions, and accept that I may not fully understand the issue.
4. I’m ready to acknowledge what you do well instead of just picking apart your mistakes.
5. I recognize your strengths and how you can use them to address your challenges.
6. I can hold you accountable without shaming or blaming.
7. I’m open to owning my part.
8. I can genuinely thank someone for their efforts rather than just criticizing them for their failings.
9. I can talk about how resolving these challenges will lead to growth and opportunity.
10. I can model the vulnerability and openness I expect to see from you.
Meet Mateo (or the guy who works in the cubicle next to you)
People love Mateo. Mateo loves people. He is easy to talk to, a natural conversationalist, and he makes friends everywhere he goes from the garage attendants to the C-Suite leaders. So, his manager wonders why it is that Mateo slams down his desk phone and lurks around like the office grump every time he talks to Madeleine. His colleagues have called his behavior unprofessional and noted the disruption to the office culture which is certainly not helping his chances at getting promoted. After walking through Brown’s checklist and specifically identifying Mateo’s problematic behavior in light of the organization’s leadership competency model, she requested a meeting with him.
Manager: “Hey, Mateo. Every time I bump into you, you seem to have made a new friend. In fact, I just saw you chatting up the copy machine repair guy about his kids. You are such a natural people-person and so charismatic, yet I’ve noticed that you haven’t hit it off with Madeleine at all. You slam down your phone every time you talk to her and it diminishes your demeanor for the rest of the day. You may not have noticed, but this behavior is disruptive to the office. What’s going on here?”
Mateo: “You’re right, I love people, but NOT Madeleine! She’s French. It’s always “back home” this and “where I’m from” that with her. I’ve worked for this company for ten years, she’s been here two. She thinks she’s too good for us.”
Manager: “Thanks for sharing this with me. Madeleine’s talk about “back home being better”, triggers you. That’s understandable. After all, you’re away from home, too. The good news is that I know there’s a way for you to find common ground and work together – let’s find it together. I will follow up with you next week to talk through some ideas I have about communication. I will also have a conversation with Madeleine. In the meantime, I’d like you to exercise your curiosity and think about some ways that you could find common ground with her. Did you know that she loves to read the same mystery novels that you do?”
Curiosity Won’t Kill the Cat
In my experience (and research is now backing me up on this), curiosity in both the giver and receiver is key to a good feedback experience. When managers are curious about their employees’ skilled and less-than-skilled areas, their questions and comments indicate interest in lieu of possibly coming across as threatening. When team members can remain curious when receiving feedback, they can sidestep emotional lock-up and stay in a growth mindset. (If you are curious about the importance of curiosity in the business world, check out Stella’s Business Case for Curiosity.)
It’s worth getting good at giving feedback - it’ll make your people-first culture thrive. Pro tip: Your anxiety will ease with good preparation and practice.