Most of us have a tough time receiving feedback, especially when it’s uninvited. We either immediately reject it (“What does she know anyway?”) or we take it so personally that it tampers with our basic self-esteem (“I can never do anything right.”)
Yet here’s the thing. Feedback is a growth opportunity. The key is in having the right mindset to take advantage of that opportunity.
Shift your thinking. In her book, Mindset, Dr. Carol Dweck, professor of psychology at Stanford University, talks about two mindsets – a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. People with a fixed mindset believe their intelligence is a fixed trait and that it’s talent not effort that creates success. People with a growth mindset, on the other hand, believe that “brains and talent are just the starting point.” They recognize that continuous learning is essential for great accomplishment. Practice a growth mindset by being receptive to feedback.
Ask for it. Not from everyone, but from people you respect and who know you. They may have some ideas that can help you grow. They’ve been waiting for your permission to share them with you. Be specific in the ask. “I want to be sure I’m conveying confidence when I’m presenting. What observations do you have, and how can I improve?” Research shows that people who seek feedback have higher performance ratings and are happier overall.
Conversely, a 3-year study by Leadership IQ found that the biggest reason new hires fail (46% of them fail within the first 18 months) is because they cannot accept feedback. Seriously? You’d think that, being new, they’d be more open to it. Nope. Of those who fail, for 26% it’s because they’re uncoachable and for 23% it’s due to lack of emotional intelligence (which also relates to being able to accept feedback.) Only 11% fail due to lack of technical skills.
Listen. Even when feedback is uninvited (or unwelcome) allow yourself to just listen. Ask for clarification – and/or a specific example – to be sure you understand what the other person meant. If you feel an emotional response coming on, take a breath (not a sigh and eye roll) and say something like, “Thank you for that feedback. Let me think about it.” Then really do think about it and pull from it what is useful.
Take notes. When someone gives you feedback jot down in your own words what they said. That will take the sting out of it and also give you the opportunity to tie it to specific examples in your work or behaviors. Look for patterns. Maybe there’s a non-word you use all the time that is impacting your credibility when presenting or speaking to customers. Writing that down will make it real and help you think about how to fix it.
Say thank you and follow up. Feedback is a gift. Say thank you. And one of the best ways to show your appreciation is to actually implement what you learned from the feedback. It doesn’t mean that you have to make every change. What it means is that you have to at least think it through and capture the nuggets of wisdom that will contribute to your growth.
“We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.” – Bill Gates
For employees to thrive (and stay!) they need to feel valued, connected, challenged and recognized. One of the best ways leaders can help employees feel this way is to give them timely and effective feedback on a regular basis. In other words, feedback that matters!
Now, I get that giving feedback isn’t always easy. For that matter, neither is RECEIVING feedback, but we’ll talk about that next time. Often when we hear the phrase, “I’d like to give you some feedback…” our defenses go up and we prepare for the worst.
Giving feedback, however, shouldn’t immediately trigger a negative response. Feedback is actually very much a positive. It’s a real opportunity to help someone get better and stronger. And as leaders, it’s our responsibility to help our employees get better and stronger.
Remember, employees want to know how they’re doing. You may believe “no news is good news” yet your employees may not see it that way. They may interpret your silence as apathy, and begin to wonder, “Why do I even bother?” Take the time to acknowledge and show appreciation for their efforts. Likewise, if there’s an issue, don’t assume it will resolve itself. Unless you say something, they may not realize there’s a problem. Poor performance does not improve with age.
Effective feedback is a gift and provides benefits for all.
Here’s how to give feedback that matters.
Make it timely. This doesn’t mean you have to praise them each time they complete a task. Be sincere! It means saying “thank you” immediately when they’ve made an extra effort or providing praise shortly after they’ve solved a complex problem or achieved a new skill. It also means giving negative feedback no later than 24 hours after observing the behavior. And be sure the feedback is based on your observation rather than what you’ve heard from others. Giving feedback regularly will help you build trust with your employees and make them more receptive and motivated to improve.
Make it specific. Focus on facts not feelings. Use the SAR method. Situation. Action. Results. “Thank you, Jane, for stepping in to complete that report while John was out. Without your help we would not have been able to complete the project milestone.” Or, “Bob, I’ve read through your proposal and some of the figures don’t quite add up. Accuracy on these proposals is essential to avoid future issues with the client.” Be sure you don’t fall into the “but” trap. “I really like your approach on the presentation, but I think the slides are too busy.” What will the employee hear? “The slides are too busy.” Use “and” instead. “I really like your approach on the presentation, and I think it will have more impact if you have fewer words on each slide.”
Be kind. As frustrating as the behavior may be, keep a check on your emotions and words. Stick to the facts and focus on the solution moving forward. Help them understand how what they do – or don’t do – impacts other individuals, the team, the project, or the organization. Also, be sure that you conduct negative feedback in private.
Listen. Deliver your feedback in a manner that allows a two-way conversation versus a finger-pointing monologue. Be open to the employee’s ideas as to how they might improve. Include them in designing the development process.
Follow through. Giving the feedback and recommendations is just the first step. If you leave it there nothing will happen. Once you’ve clearly defined expectations and next steps, help your employee improve by keeping them accountable. Set specific goals and periodic check-ins. Revisit the conversation to acknowledge progress made and/or reinforce development plans.
“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” – Ken Blanchard
For more on feedback, tune into my “Giving Feedback That Matters” podcast.
Till next time,