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May I Offer You Some Feedback?

I’ve been thinking a lot about feedback lately.    I’m working on a course on effective feedback for a local college and I have a great outline of content to share with the participants.   The session will give the group some great action items to take away for delivering feedback both good and not so good. My agenda contains a discussion of formal versus informal feedback as well as the importance of monthly and semi-annual feedback reviews.  We discuss verbal versus written as you might imagine and we dive deep into effective phrasing for tough messages and building in accountability. All great stuff and we could certainly fill a 2 hour session with just those concepts, but that would miss the point.

What I really want to spend the bulk of our time on is building relationships based on trust so your feedback is well received.  The bottom line is that the message doesn’t matter if I don’t trust the person delivering it. So the basis for feedback has to start LONG before the actual discussion or annual review.   It starts at the first interaction and every subsequent interaction. If you trust and respect the person giving you feedback, you will receive the message and be more likely to act on it.     That’s not just Jilly’s opinion, it is a true fact.  

Throughout my career, I have delivered a metric ton tough feedback and it is always challenging.  And I can’t tell you how many times it went horribly wrong. Usually, the individual got defensive or angry and the conversation escalated.   What I know now, is that as a leader delivering that feedback, the failure was mine not the individual.   And it wasn’t failure of giving the wrong feedback.  It was failure of gaining the person’s trust to give me authority to give the feedback.  You heard me correctly, “authority.” Managers often think their position gives them the authority to give feedback.  It does not. The relationship with the individual based on trust and respect gives you the authority to give that feedback. 

Let me put it another way in a totally non work related scenario.  Let’s say I am in a cranky mood and being snippy with people out in the world, perhaps at a grocery store or local restaurant.  (We all know this is fiction, because I am a GD Delight). Now imagine, someone chooses to call me on my bad behavior. If that person is a stranger nearby, I am likely to get defensive and dismiss their feedback.  They likely don’t have the authority to give me that feedback.   If I receive the feedback from my husband who I trust and respect and I know cares about me, I am much more likely to simmer down and stop being a pill. Additionally, my husband knows me and understands what makes me tick so he is far more likely to deliver the message in a way that I will best receive it.  It’s as simple as that.   

As leaders, that’s the secret sauce to feedback.     It’s ALL about the relationship. If you can’t answer the following questions about a person, you should probably work on getting to the bottom of these before providing critical feedback to the individual:

  1. Why does this person like working here?   Or do they?

  2. What makes this person enjoy work?  

  3. What are their short term goals?   

  4. How do they like to be managed?

  5. What will it take for this person to trust you?  

If you have a good understanding of these things, you have a start to a workable relationship.  And you should make sure the individual knows these things about you too. Trust and respect goes both ways.   I guarantee if you share this with your team, they are likely to share with you too. Give it a whirl, let me know how it goes.   

A word on positive feedback.  Give it endlessly. All. The. Time.    It paves the way for openness to critical feedback as well.    Years ago, one of my direct reports said to me, “I appreciate the criticism because it helps me get better, but you never talk about the good things.”    OOF! I felt like I was punched in the gut, but this person was 100% correct. I cared a great deal about this person and their success and I gave them all the “opportunities for improvement” so they could succeed, but I forgot to tell them when they were kicking ass because I assumed they knew.  Guess what? Even if they do know, they want to hear it anyway. Particularly if their love language is “Words of Affirmation.” More on learning your team’s love language in a future blog. But add Gary Chapman’s “The Five Love Languages” to your reading list as homework.   

Now, I am going to get back to working on this course and maybe my first step will be to propose adding an hour to the agenda to make sure we can really dive into this stuff.   That’s where the real learning will occur.    

Want me to come to your organization and workshop this with your team, give me a call.    

This week’s addition to the inspireal playlist fits our theme and has an epic guitar riff.  

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Jill Parker