If I told you I’d like to give you feedback…how would you feel?
Most of us have received feedback gone wrong.
It might have felt more like punishment or left us feeling bruised and confused.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
In my leadership coaching, I have seen every type of dysfunctional relationship and the best intentions gone awry. Often the human resources pro or the leader delivering the feedback is rushing to get results and oblivious to how their message is being received.
I’ve also seen attempts at manipulation presented as “open feedback” that lead to confusion, distrust and even worse performance.
The trick with feedback is to not use tricks. Done right, feedback (or feedforward) is all about honesty, transparency and supporting the other person.
And it all starts with avoiding confusion.
Even the simplest feedback conversation can backfire.
The receiver may choose to “hear” a different type of feedback than the one intended. For example, they receive any performance coaching as negative or as punishment.
Or the receiver misinterprets the feedback as having a hidden agenda – like your praise is merely a “set up” for negative feedback coming later.
Like any story we make up, once wires have been crossed it’s challenging to get back to an open conversation. To avoid feedback confusion, start with clarity of intent–what is the outcome you want?
Let’s start by looking at the 3 kinds of feedback (I describe the four ways to connect with your team members in this post):
Perhaps the most under-utilized feedback is praise – or appreciation. Appreciative feedback can be as simple as you expressing gratitude for having that person on the team.
Appreciation is fundamentally about relationships and human connections—you are saying “thank you” or “you matter.”
Appreciation can be motivating – it is empowering and inspires others to double their efforts. When people ask for feedback at work, it’s often because they want to know someone cares and has noticed how hard they’ve been working.
Have you ever asked for feedback when really, you were asking for direction?
Essentially, you’re asking for coaching. You’re aiming to learn and grow. If you’re a leader (read about the quiet leader type in this post), coaching can be your way to help someone improve. This could involve a skill, knowledge, or process, or fill a gap in a person’s performance or approach to coworkers or customers.
The distinction with coaching that is centers on you asking questions and soliciting new approaches. Questions like: “When you say you are always busy, give me an example of what keeps you so busy.” or “I hear you saying you are frustrated, tell me more about what you mean.”
Your coaching could even be to help a person improve their appearance or attitude. Coaching is all about improving in the future.
Of all types of feedback, evaluation is the most challenging to deliver.
Evaluation is an assessment of someone’s performance. It could be a ranking or rating—ultimately a comparison against a specific set of standards.
Because evaluations are typically based on some kind of measurement (like sales quotas), they are often received with judgments.
The challenge with citing my level of performance is it presents a measurable “gap” (you are a ‘7’ instead of a ‘10’.)
Naturally, most people receive a gap in performance as criticism and take it personally. It’s important to frame the conversation as a forward-looking growth conversation – not punishment. For example, “I want to share these results with you and then talk about how we can take this to the next level.”
Appreciation, coaching, and evaluation each satisfy a specific set of human needs. To feel motivated enough to function, we want to feel appreciated. To fast-track our learning and improve our skills, we all need feedback and coaching.
Are you an HR professional or leader who is challenged by effectively delivering feedback? I believe I can help you. If you’d like to learn more about how I have helped people transform their leadership skills through coaching techniques and highly-personalized programs, connect with me: http://meetme.so/GregNichvalodoff
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This article was originally published in 2017 and was updated in 2019.