I rarely get angry. Today I was really, really angry about the outcome of poor feedback. I debriefed a 360° feedback assessment, a retest after 12 months. The results left the person (who we’ll call Sophie) in tears. I have done many debriefs in my career and have not experienced anyone in quite as much distress. It was terrible. The distress came not from the result itself, but because Sophie had put faith in 4 people she had enlisted to give her feedback over the 12 months.
She had put a lot of effort into her development based on this feedback. And today, her results had little in common with the feedback she felt she had been receiving. “You’re doing a great job”, “What you did worked”. The feedback Sophie had heard was encouraging (great) but was not constructive. It supported Sophie’s actions but didn’t expand and help her see what wasn’t working. It didn’t help her understand the negative impact she can have on others. This did show up in her 360° feedback.
The impact was a very sudden sense of betrayal. She had trusted these people to give her feedback to help navigate the development journey and they had failed her.
Now, Sophie may be difficult to give feedback to. She might not be hearing the feedback…. But 4 people? Anecdotally, I have heard some less than constructive stories. Surely those committed to giving Sophie feedback had heard them too? It leads me to question what went wrong.
Four people committed to help, but didn’t deliver. The distress I witnessed I doubt was the intention of any of these people. What got in the way? Have they avoided their own discomfort? Inadequate feedback is the result when we move away from being an authentic leader.
In this moment, the cost to both Sophie and the organisation of ineffective feedback is high! Sophie, a middle manager has lost a year of development. She has lost trust in the 4 people who had agreed to support her in her development. Those 4 people have lost a year of practising effective feedback. There has been effort without the desired outcome. Sophie’s engagement and motivation have copped a beating. It will take a lot of effort to rebuild the relationships and Sophie’s engagement. The real issues for Sophie’s development remain.
I have learnt such an important lesson at the hands of another’s distress. I am never going to let pass the opportunity to give feedback – good or bad, no matter how hard it might be.
Giving feedback, authentically!
Here’s 6 points to help you avoid the trap of hollow, inauthentic feedback.
- Intention – Understanding of your intention as a leader is important. Why do you lead? What outcome do you seek from your leadership? This knowledge helps shape the purpose of giving feedback. For example, say your intention as a leader is to engage those around you in achieving great things, for the organisation and for themselves. Giving effective feedback is fundamental to anyone’s ability to achieve great things. It would be core to this leadership intention.
How does feedback fit in your leadership intention?
- Values – Acting consistently with your values is fundamental to authentic leadership. How will your values support you in having this potentially difficult conversation? As an example, my core values include fairness, courage, curiosity and growth. So I approach giving feedback with curiosity. “I wonder what the other person’s perspective is on this situation? I wonder how it can be helpful to them? I will withhold judgement, and ask questions to help turn this into a learning opportunity. It also ensures I am being fair. And I will front up and do this, even if I feel uncomfortable because being courageous helps me grow.
What are your core values? How will they underpin this feedback conversation?
- Strengths & Weaknesses – What strengths can you rely on? What weaknesses might show up and what strategies do you need to have in place to minimize the impact of them?
How will your strengths and weaknesses play out in giving this feedback?
- Potential – What can you learn through this experience? Allocating time after giving feedback creates space to reflect. What worked? What didn’t? What would you do differently next time? Rate yourself out of 10. What did you learn about feedback?
What can both you and the other person learn about giving feedback? How does this extend your potential?
- Emotions – Feedback can be a simple conversation or it might be a more complex, longer conversation. It’s an important interaction that has the potential to provoke a whole range of emotions. Managing emotions rather than reacting to them is important. Your ability to stay calm and open, compassionate and clear is core to the success of the conversation. Being aware of your emotions is important and what you do with them even more so. They can inform the conversation “I can feel the hurt in your voice…”. They can also derail the conversation. For example reacting to fears or being triggered into a habitual pattern like having to save others or lashing out to defend self. To support managing emotions centre yourself before the conversation and continue to do so throughout the conversation. And keep breathing. When you notice the emotion rising let it go, refocus on the person and your intention for the conversation.
How aware are you of your emotions when you give feedback? What do you do to manage your emotions? How do you discern the feelings that guide you or the feelings that may derail you?
- Be other focused. Being self focused leads to an acute awareness of our discomfort in giving the feedback. It’s this discomfort that gets in the way of delivering clear, constructive, authentic feedback. Understanding our discomfort is insightful. “I am uncomfortable giving this feedback because… the person may be hurt by it, may react badly and I don’t know how to manage it, I might do a bad job, the person won’t listen, etc.” These are all risks. They may occur in the future (like all fears). They are fears that can derail. And they are ultimately all about ‘me’ and how I will feel. Focusing on the benefit this feedback will be to the individual and others in the team, makes us more inclined to provide the feedback! Staying other focused is far more comfortable and more supportive of good quality feedback.
How will your feedback serve the other person? How could the person or others benefit from effective feedback?
It’s one of those things. We know that giving feedback is important and yet many of us avoid it. The cost of avoiding constructive, effective feedback is ultimately too high. Giving feedback is a great opportunity to practice authentic leadership!