Giving feedback is a regular part of a manager’s job responsibility, but most are uncomfortable. David Rock and his colleagues from the NeuroLeadership Institute wrote in this article,
“Typical feedback conversations are about as pleasant as a root canal. Managers dread them because it’s often unclear what feedback the employee wants or needs. Employees dread them because even light criticism can feel like an assault on their status and credibility.”David Rock, The Neuroleadership Institute
People want feedback. A feedback loop is what makes organisms survive on this earth. In a podcast, Oprah Winfrey mentioned that all her guests, including Beyonce and President Obama, asked her, “How did I do?” after an interview. In her compassionate Oprah style, she unpacked it as “the longing to be accepted in their truth.”
A quick web search brought up this definition of feedback:
“Comments in the form of opinions and reactions to something, intended to provide useful information for future decisions and development.”
Unfortunately, in the workplace, we often give feedback as a verdict. And that is when it gets more complicated, both for the giver and the receiver. Recently, two of my clients shared their fear of giving feedback. It gave me more insight into the reason behind it.
Scenario 1: An Engineering Manager
Let’s call him George (not his real name). He needed to give feedback to one of his direct reports, but he was afraid that the person would disagree, leading to a conflict.
I asked: Why do you want him to agree?
He answered: “I have formed this feedback based on what happened before, and I have included it as a part of my feedback for his performance review.”
How did George’s approach fair according to the above definition of feedback? George’s “feedback” sounded like a judge’s verdict. Expecting that the receiver would agree with it seemed an unrealistic expectation.
In my corporate life, I have seen many managers like this. First, they delay the feedback, and eventually, it becomes a verdict that no one is happy about.
Scenario 2: A VP Of Engineering
Let’s call him Puneet (not his real name).
He was annoyed by the arrogant behavior of a senior person (let’s call him Jack) in his team. Puneet thought it was diminishing the team morale. But he was afraid to share his feedback, anticipating it wouldn’t be well received.
I offered Puneet another perspective. What prompted Jack to make such smirk comments during a team meeting? Puneet couldn’t figure that out either. So, I encouraged him to have a conversation with Jack, starting with that question.
To his surprise, the conversation went much smoother than he anticipated, and he found that Jack felt that he was not listened to by his management, and those comments were his way of reacting. Ultimately, both agreed to be more mindful when speaking in team settings.
What to Do Instead
These four steps of co-creating feedback can make the delivery easier for both the giver and the receiver.
- Clarifying their intention – What did they intend to do by their initial action?
- Sharing the feedback – Share your opinion gently, noting their strengths and possible growth opportunities. You may use the Situation-Behavior-Impact (SBI) method from the Center for Creative Leadership.
- Finalizing the feedback – Ask them about their understanding and takeaways.
- Designing next steps – Ask them how they will apply their takeaway in the future.
We may not be as heart-based as Oprah in our workplace, but we all deserve to feel safe and not endanger our status and credibility. So, a little compassion and curiosity could be a great place to begin.