Why Do We Stink At Feedback? (And How To Remove the Stench!)

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I’m facilitating a session on communication or leadership when we come to talking about giving feedback.  I ask the question, “Who feels they get enough, by any measure, positive feedback?”

No matter what size group, only a few hands go up.  Even today, in an era where the youngest generation of workers, affectionately known as millennials, were given tons of positive feedback growing up that they didn’t always deserve, it amazes me that we don’t give more positive feedback in the workplace.

To this day, most of the feedback we give is constructive, or developmental, code for when they screw up.  To this day, even when we give feedback that acknowledges something positive that happened, we don’t do it often enough, we aren’t specific enough, and we feel we have to add something that they didn’t do well just to balance it out.

We need to drop our antiquated ways of giving feedback and get into the 21st century.  This component of coaching is essential to that Holy Grail everyone is talking about today, engagement.  It doesn’t cost anything to give feedback, but the cost could be tremendous if we don’t give it, give it regularly, or just give it when things go wrong.

Millennials, whom many of you reading this showered with positive feedback when they were your children, demand positive feedback, and feedback delivered often.  EVERYONE in the workplace should have these same expectations of their leaders regardless of the generation in which they reside.

It is your obligation as a leader, and as a coach, to develop their skills and guide their career path.  Providing timely, consistent, and balanced feedback shows that you care.  It fulfills a need all workers have for their leader to communicate effectively.

So how do we remove the stench of bad feedback?  The following guidance should provide a more pleasant odor:

•    Give feedback often –positive and constructive
•    Give feedback in the moment, when you witnessed or heard something
•    Don’t wait until the semi or annual performance review to give feedback, especially if it’s constructive
•    Tie feedback to the performance expectations you should have made clear from the beginning
•    Be specific about what you saw or heard when giving feedback.  If you are providing positive feedback, just don’t say, “Good job,” and nothing else.  Let the person know what you saw or heard them do that led to a positive outcome.  They will know you are REALLY paying attention
•    In delivering constructive feedback, objectively describe the actions you saw or heard; avoid making judgmental statements such as, “it seems like you weren’t focused today in the meeting,,,,,” Describe the behavior you saw or heard, don’t label it
•    Don’t feel that you to have to make a sandwich (sorry if you are getting hungry) by giving positive, then constructive, followed by positive feedback.  If all you need to do is provide positive feedback, do it and move on.  Consequently, if the situation calls for delivering constructive feedback, don’t feel you have to sandwich it between positive feedback
•    When providing constructive feedback, think of the opportunity to develop the person.  Work with them to develop a plan to be successful.  This does not necessarily mean telling them what to do.  Involve them in coming up with the solution. Ask for their ideas. They will be more bought in and accountable if they have a hand in creating the way forward

Walter W. Hoff is President of Development First, LLC, a leadership development consulting company that provides consulting, coaching, facilitation, and design services to companies in various industries who are focused on building the skills of present and future leaders of people.  Contact Walt at whoff@developmentfirstllc.com

Walter Hoff