Why Great Feedback is so Hard to Give

5 Oct

FACT: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS BAD FEEDBACK. There is feedback that is poorly delivered (we’ve all experienced that boss) but all feedback is good feedback, and definitely better than no feedback. There can, however, be positive and negative feedback. Both are equally important for high level performance.

Positive – Nice shirt and nice pants. Negative – But they don’t match.

Feedback is one of the most critical requirements for sustained high-level performance of any human. – Ferdinand Fournies

It’s pretty easy to understand why it’s hard to deliver negative feedback. You don’t know how it is going to be received, you don’t know how your employee will react and it makes you feel really awkward. However, any employee who has had even a modicum (look it up) of success will tell you that one of the secrets to their success is the feedback they received. Many employees I speak to tell me their favorite managers were the ones who gave feedback whether it was positive or negative, they just appreciated getting it.

So why is it so hard for managers to give feedback even when it is good feedback?

Here is my theory. Unfortunately, much of the feedback we get is poorly delivered. Even when it is positive many managers do an inadequate job of delivering it (Tip: they key to effective feedback is 1. timeliness 2. specificity). Therefore feedback generally has a negative connotation associated with it. The word and meaning cause a negative emotional reaction based on our own personal experiences. That sucks. It’s like we are doomed for a life because the first few times we got feedback someone did a crappy job. So, like most things we have a bad emotional reaction to, we choose to avoid it.

Avoidance is our #1 defense mechanism and we use it often.

So what is the solution? Simply put – change the pattern. Anytime you have a consistent emotional reaction to something it means there is an established pattern. You may not even mean to react that way, maybe there isn’t even a good reason, but it happens. Patterns are a killer to break, but they can be broken. Think about a food you never used to eat and now just discovered you actually like. For years whenever someone even mentioned the name of that food (i.e. spinach) you cringed. Then one day you were convinced to try it, and it wasn’t so bad. Now you probably still have the same emotional reaction when you hear the worked or see spinach but you have learned to overcome it with your positive experiences.

They key is to start by doing at least one thing differently whenever you are in the same situation again so that the pattern is disrupted. You have to recognize the behaviors you exhibit whenever you are faced with the situation and consciously change the way you react, even if it is only one little thing. If, for example, you typically push off scheduling a meeting to deliver feedback, change the pattern by immediately scheduling the meeting. You have not even delivered the feedback but already you are changing the pattern about how you deliver feedback. Sometimes something as simple as changing the location where you usually deliver the feedback can lead to much bigger change.

These small changes will lead to better experiences (or at least experiences that are not as miserable). Over time (sometimes a long time) creating positive experiences will create new emotional reactions. Soon you’ll be an expert at delivering feedback and gain a reputation as an awesome boss. Who doesn’t want that???

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2 Responses to “Why Great Feedback is so Hard to Give”

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