For those of you fortunate enough to have heard this business catch phrase, consider yourself lucky. Often, when we hear the word feedback, we shutter inside and our body’s defense mechanisms kick in. Sweating, reddening face, you know the feeling, but feedback can be a gift when done correctly.
We fear feedback
Although feedback can certainly be positive, and it often is, we are always waiting for the “but” to come, with areas of improvement following the parade of pleasantries. Everyone has had this happen – the “sh*t sandwich”. It goes something like this – “I liked how you did a great job doing
…awkward pause…but you could have done better.” For those of you that have been given the precious gift of feedback this way, or another similarly bad way, here are some tools on how to improve your feedback culture.
This past week, I have been given feedback, have coached someone on how to give feedback, and have also given feedback. This trend got me thinking. In each situation directly following the feedback, the receiver got defensive and emotional. Excuses and denial were common at first. But, after reflecting, each receiver realized something critical – the provider of the feedback had taken the time to give it. The provider was not doing it to be malicious – it’s actually easier to not give feedback and avoid the conflict altogether. Quite the contrary, the provider was doing it because he or she cared. That’s the thing about feedback – when done correctly, it usually comes from a good place. When I coach people on feedback, I often say this – “assume goodwill” – assume people do things with a purpose, and it’s usually with good intentions.
Feedback, when done with goodwill, can truly be a positive coaching experience. The best feedback cites specific, tangible details, is done immediately following an event, and leads to development.
The best feedback calls out specific, tangible details of the situation. Details like “I noticed you did this”, “the client reacted like this”, or playing back specific words or actions can help provide align perspective. By sticking with the facts, you keep it objective and leave less room for that pesky defensive feeling to kick in. In my situation, the provider actually explained his perception of me interrupting a client and shared his observation of the client leaning back in his chair with a puzzled look on their face. Those were facts, hard to argue with those. His feedback was that I was not listening, and he got my attention with specific, tangible details.
You have to do it right away. If possible, directly following a presentation or key event, you should encourage people to ask for feedback in the closing minutes. The first time it can be quite awkward, but it gets easier the more you make it normal. A colleague of mine does this brilliantly. Before we can even get out of chairs to leave the room, she turns and asks “what feedback do you have for me”. You have no choice but to say something. And when you do it should be specific and tangible. Waiting days or weeks, or worst case until a performance review, just loses context and lessens the impact. If you have a larger team with hectic schedules, make it a norm to schedule time to talk about what went well, and what could have gone better, but make it as close as possible to the event.
Once you deliver the facts as closely as possible to the event, you need to paint a picture of what success looks like in the future. People need to feel like now that they know this, they can do something differently as a result. A good leader asks questions to do this. “So, now that you know this, what do you think we can do to improve?” is one way to engage the individual. The key to this is the accountability shifts back to the individual, and they are in charge of their own personal development. Of course, provide input and continued feedback on progress, but make sure the individual contributes to ideas to develop long-term.
Make it a priority
Leaders ask for feedback. Leaders give specific and timely feedback with purpose. The thing about feedback is the more you do it, the more normal it becomes, and the less emotional the reactions are. But leaders need to make it a priority for it to spread. Imagine working in an environment where you do not have to question how you are doing and what people think about you. Who wouldn’t want to know where you stand, and what you can do to be better.
So leaders, I challenge you to create a culture of feedback. Those that do often notice higher engagement and better business results.