When I talk about feedback with a manager or employees, I will invariably get a strong emotional reaction. And 90% of the time, it will be a negative reaction. A smile or even a neutral expression will turn into a frown. And then, one of two things will happen. If the other person tends to be more extroverted, I will hear their horror story of feedback gone wrong. It is usually when the person was on the receiving end of the feedback, but not always. If the person is more introverted, I can see them reliving their own horror story but I may have to ask them what came to mind.
The Paradox of Feedback
Clearly feedback is a hot topic for most of us. It elicits such strong, and usually negative, reactions. The paradox, though, is that it is so necessary. Feedback is a mechanism for us to know how we are doing. Are we on track to be successful? Is our behavior appropriate or inappropriate? It can make the difference between success and failure. Yet, very few of us would serve or eat a heaping portion every day, as Ken Blanchard suggested when he said ‘feedback is the breakfast of champions.’ It should be something we serve to each other, to our kids and to our employees and teams.
Why Feedback is So Challenging
People are complex beings. There is any number of reasons why feedback is challenging to give or receive. Here are some that come to mind (and, by the way, they are interrelated):
- First, we are human. We are not robots. Everything we hear or say or even anticipate hearing or saying causes an emotional reaction. And when it comes to giving or getting feedback, it goes through our emotional filters. That is due in part to the fact that it can impact our own self worth if on the receiving end, or someone else’s, if on the giving end. A classic example most of us have experienced is when a work situation has gone wrong and everyone knows about it. You see your manager approaching and your blood pressure goes up. The same applies when it’s time for the dreaded ‘annual performance review.’
- A second reason feedback can be hard to give or receive is that we were all raised with feedback both at home and in school. Our parents gave us feedback every day starting at a very early age when we were told ‘No’ and then perhaps, ‘don’t touch that’ or ‘don’t hit’ or ‘don’t yell’. Feedback is common to ensure safety or ‘correct’ behavior. We all got feedback starting in grade school with test scores and grades. Much of the feedback that kids receive is negative, but hopefully that is balanced with positive feedback also. For many, feedback was so overwhelmingly negative or handled so badly as kids, especially in families with yelling or worse, it opens scars from the past. And, those learned patterns of behavior are carried into adulthood.
- A third reason feedback is challenging is that many people don’t know how to give or receive feedback. For some people, that even includes receiving positive feedback. I know I used to stumble over receiving positive feedback. I think I may have been in high school when someone, probably a friend, suggested after seeing me flail, that I just say ‘Thank you’ when someone gave me a compliment. Duh. And negative feedback?? Yikes. How many of us can honestly say ‘Thank you’ when someone gives us negative feedback, even when it’s done with the intent to help us. Have you had training or practiced giving and receiving feedback?
Why Feedback is Important
Feedback is important because it lets us know how we are doing. Feedback from customers is critical for your business or organization. Feedback from managers and even peers is critical for employees for the following reasons:
- Feedback helps to guide employees and ensure that they stay on track. Without feedback, they have to rely on their own information and assumptions.
- Feedback is a form of recognition for employees. It validates their work, which meets a core human need to be acknowledged by their manager.
- Feedback can be energizing and motivating for employees. It is linked to employee satisfaction and productivity. It helps people feel involved with the team and the business. Feedback on their progress can further spur employees toward their goals. The lack of feedback and the resulting uncertainty can create doubt, which in turn, can lead to delays, missteps and wasted energy.
Managers and Feedback: Why It Doesn’t Happen
Even though feedback is a core and much needed responsibility of managers and leaders, most employees don’t receive much feedback from their managers. When I ask managers why they don’t give feedback, I hear one of three reasons:
- They don’t have time to do it. My response: feedback is a core responsibility for a manager and can really elevate the performance of their team. When I hear this from managers, I ask them to reframe their vision of what feedback is. It should just be part of everyday management and not an event or a document. With that reframe, managers realize that it is manageable and will save them time in the long run.
- It’s not part of their routine. Unless it’s time for the annual performance review. My response: see the above bullet. Feedback should happen continually and not just during the annual performance review. (This will be addressed further in an upcoming blog post)
- They don’t get feedback so they don’t know why they should give feedback. I don’t hear this very often and I see this as a sign of a burned-out manager, which is very concerning.
- They don’t know how to give feedback. This is what I hear most often.
Stay tuned next week when we will address that last bullet – knowing how to give feedback – when we discuss giving positive feedback.