Feedback that Inspires
When we highlight the shortcomings of others, they tend to react defensively. Negative feedback is often received as a threat, which can lead to depression and anxiety. We may set out to inspire improvement. Instead, our peers begin to avoid us, gravitating toward peers that provide a judgment-free safety net. Yet we know learning new skills and improving performance is something our peers and direct reports desire. The key is to reshape your feedback conversations to focus on achieving a positive outcome together.
Focus on the Outcome
The way we provide feedback makes a difference in how people receive and act on the feedback. If our goal is to provide feedback to change behavior for the right reasons, we need to message our feedback in the right way. For someone to grow and improve, they need to have a positive view of themselves. If we set out with the intention to provide feedback for improvement, but end up deflating that person’s sense of self, we will likely not get the results we were seeking.
We aren’t as good as we think we are at giving others feedback on their performance. The idiosyncratic rater effect explains that “humans are unreliable raters of other humans.” Data shows that this presents a large bias. According to harvard business review, more than half of your assessment of someone else is a projection of your own characteristics. So, it’s almost impossible for leaders or peers to accurately rate another person’s weaknesses or skills.
When someone says, “If i were you, i would do this,” or “we do it like this,” what they are really saying is that the other person should be more like them. The truth is, we are all different. What works for one person may not work for another. The skills one person uses to communicate effectively can be completely different from how another would approach the same situation. There isn’t one universal journey to great performance. There are many, many roads a person may choose to take.
Identifying a gap, failure, or area of improvement for someone else doesn’t usually generate the outcome we were trying to achieve. Pointing out an individual’s weakness can cause them to comply with a behavior change, however it’s likely they aren’t changing behavior because they actually see value in the change. The real goal of feedback is to change behavior for the right reasons and to sustain that change while striving for excellence.
To create an excellent organization, we have to give thoughtful feedback to people in a positive way. Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall, authors of The Feedback Fallacy (Harvard Business Review 2019) recommend replacing the following statements we commonly use when providing feedback with these alternatives:
|Can I give you some feedback?||Here’s my reaction.|
|Good job!||Here are three things that really worked for me. What was going through your mid when you did them?|
|Here’s what you should do.||Here’s what I would do.|
|Here’s what you should do to improve.||Here’s what worked best for me, and here’s why.|
|That didn’t really work.||When you did x, I felt or I didn’t understand that.|
|You need to improve your communication skills.||Here’s exactly where you started to lose me.|
|You need to be more responsive.||When I don’t hear from you, I worry that we’re not on the same page.|
|You lack strategic thinking.||I’m struggling to understand your plan.|
|You should do x [in response to a request for advice].||What do you feel you’re struggling with, and what have you done in the past that’s worked in a similar situation?|
PROVIDE FEEDBACK THAT INSPIRES IN 3 STEPS:
- What is the intended outcome of the feedback messages?
- How will this feedback support the individual’s pursuit of excellence?
- How can you contribute to this conversation to achieve a positive outcome?
- What questions can I ask, or key words can I use, to coach this individual towards the intended outcome?
Providing better feedback involves spending more time listening than talking. We learn more when we answer probing questions about our performance than we do when we are listening to a leader tell us how to perform. Use conversations to gain insight about how the decision was made, and express concerns in a more positive frame, such as the impacts on team needs. Use Key Words at Key Times to steer any negative communication in a positive direction.
- Frame conversations as development, not criticism.
- Start without judging, focus on observations made, “Here’s what I observed,” not, “here’s what’s wrong.”
- Have empathy for the person’s situation.
- Offer to share experiences that have worked for you personally.
- Avoid telling someone how to change their behavior or what you think they should do. Instead, probe for their thoughts on what actions can be taken.