Do Your Leaders Give Feedback The Right Way?

You may have seen it or even been the recipient of it, but sometimes leaders can cause incredible havoc when they give critical feedback especially when done in a demeaning and damaging way.

And when this comes from a leader, somehow their position and the perceived emotional and societal weight of that negative performance review comes down with even greater force.

I also think it is important to separate out feedback from giving recognition.

Recognition is any thought, word or deed towards making some feel appreciated and valued for who they are as well as recognized for the things they do.

The whole intent behind recognition is to value people and their work.

Feedback contrasts with recognition in that its core purpose is to help people improve performance rather than simply acknowledge it.

Consider the following 5 points on how leaders and managers can improve their own feedback giving to people.

1. Feedback should always be a positive experience. Unfortunately, we tend to cringe whenever we hear someone say they want to give us some feedback on something we did. When we understand that the intent of feedback is to be developmental in nature then surely we would want to make this the most positive experience possible.

Giving guidance for people to grow and develop from can become a very rewarding experience for both giver and receiver. It becomes both a mentoring and tutoring opportunity.

2. Leaders do not have all the answers. We can so easily reject or deny feedback we don’t agree with. That is why feedback should be an experiential dialog and not a dump of personal opinions on someone of how you think something should be done in only one way. Feedback is a two way process where you need to ask the individual for their viewpoint on what they did, whether they see concerns themselves or not, and how they might do things differently.

As a leader don’t be afraid to ask for feedback yourself. Think about asking your employees what are three things you are doing well. Then be open to asking them what are three things you can improve upon and then be prepared to act on those recommendations.

3. Learn to ask great questions. In more of a coaching framework it is a powerful skill to use good questions. Some managers argue what if the individual can’t see the problem or error then you have to point out things to them. Not so. You can ask deeper questions on why they did the task the way they did.

You might question how customers or colleagues might perceive their actions. And when all else fails describe what you saw or felt and ask for their feedback on your perceptions. The key is for them to actively learn from the feedback process versus just being told how to improve which is so passive.

4. Feedback only flourishes with positive relationships. Working with someone to improve on your personal work performance requires trust between both parties. That is why it is essential to have a positive relationship between leaders and their direct reports.

Social science research shows leaders of high performing teams use positive and affirmative expressions and words of appreciation 5 times more than low performing teams. In contrast, the leaders in low performing teams use an average of 3 times more negative and critical comments in their feedback.

5. Focus on the future and not the past. I love Marshall Goldsmith’s work on lifting performance using a revision of the term feedback to what he coined as “feedforward”. Feedback is a lagging indicator of what happened yesterday. Feedforward is to present suggestions for improving the future of an identified behavior you want to change.

Goldsmith’s recommendation is to be future focused on how to help people with their future work performance by expressing things in a feedforward manner. His premise is that you can change the future but you can’t change the past. Feedforward is also independent of the need for expertise or experience from the person giving suggestions.

All of a sudden looking at feedback this way is sounding pretty good. As Ken Blanchard once said, “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.”

Question: What is the most meaningful feedback you have ever received?

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