The Trouble with Feedback…

I just read 5 Key Elements of Effective Feedback from The Leadership Type blog and it inspired me to expand on the topic of Feedback. This article covered the basic and most important aspects about giving feedback.

Despite all the books and articles that have been written on giving feedback, there still are a few trouble spots for me on this subject.

1. Feedback HURTS.

First of all despite all the good intentions and the carefully cloaked “constructive criticism or feedback” lingo, in my observation, feedback usually means “you did something wrong, or I don’t agree with you and I want you to know about it, AND I want you to correct yourself (for your own good, of course).” Our ego system is very suspicious and sensitive to this kind assault. It knows bad things are coming in right away. And let’s be really honest, our ego system can NOT handle it. So the receiver of the feedback, no matter how good of a sport s/he is, will walk away from having just received “constructive feedback” feeling bruised and hurt! Therefore as a leader giving someone feedback, if we expect, think, or hope that “because we took great care to deliver it” the person should be able to handle and grow from it (immediately), we are in TOTAL DENIAL.

We must allow them time and space to “process” the feedback. That may mean they need to deny, reject, fight back, pout, sulk, get stuck in the muck, gossip, or just sit with it for a while. And then maybe, just maybe they will incorporate what we said and do something useful with it. The timing can be as short as a few minutes (which I doubt) and as long as a lifetime.

2. Usually the receiver of the feedback has NO choice but to receive. And that stinks!

Classic scenario: A manager calls an employee into his office. And with lots of effort and care says “I have some observations I would like to share with you.” Does the employee really have a choice here? but to hear it? NO!

Since I already established that feedback hurts. And now the employee has no choice but to hear it in the timing and circumstance that the giver decides. Given that, how receptive do you think the employee be? This is trouble no. 2 about feedback. It’s hard for the giver to give, and most of the time the process of giving feedback is completely disempowering to the receiver.

Give them true choices on if and how they want to receive feedback. Before you approach someone to give them feedback, ask them if they want it. IF you are lucky and have done a good job as a leader, they may say “NO, thanks, not right now.” You MUST HONOR that, and let go of the rush of judgment about them not wanting to receive the feedback that you have for them. Only when you, the leader, giver of feedback, truly honor this place, will you be able to create an empowering workplace where people can and want to honestly receive feedback.

3. “If I were Sir Richard Branson, would you still give me that feedback?”

This is my favorite trouble. Most feedback is given because the giver wants the receiver to grow in a certain direction; because the giver feels the receiver is out of line, missed the mark, (or overshot the mark); basically because the receiver did not COMPLY or FIT IN according to how the giver sees it. AND feedback is given to those who are still in the “trying to make it” place, which constitute at least 90% of the population.

I wonder what kind of “constructive feedback” do men like Sir Richard Branson, Jack Welch, or Donald Trump get? Or do we applaud them for their unconventionality? write books about how great they are? (don’t get me wrong I am a BIG fan of Sir Dick Branson (his Twitter name). I think more books should be written about him). But really, because they are “successful” (have made lots of money, and are well known), we assume they know. And that they are no longer subjected to our opinions of how they should be.

I think 80% of the feedback that we give are indications of areas that make US uncomfortable or confused about the person. It’s actually OUR problem not theirs. We are saying “you made me uncomfortable, please correct yourself, so that…” Rarely do we as givers of the feedback, stop and ask “what is this person really trying to do here?” and “how can I help them achieve it?” Or better yet “how do I empower this person to BE who they are and be powerful as is, instead of making them change so that they can fit in better?”

I can just imagine how many “constructive feedback” Richard, Jack, or Donald got when they were young and climbing the ladder. “Richard, I think you should be more conservative, take less risk, not be so unconventional in meetings. Perhaps people are seeing you as BRASS, or a LOOSE CANNON! It would jeopardize your career.”

You probably can tell by now, that I am not the easiest person to give feedback to. 😉

I do take a stand for an empowered workplace, where people get to be honored for who and how they are, instead of being made into a zombie at work. And it starts with a quality feedback.