Tag Archives: constructive feedback

Your Baby is Ugly! Overcoming the Fear of Feedback, Part II

My last post dealt with receiving constructive feedback. Now let’s switch sides and deal with it from the giver’s perspective.

Do you know which form of feedback is most prevalent in many organizations today?

Silence.

We’re very good about saying nothing when someone messes up. And when we remain silent, the message we’re sending is loud and clear: Your behavior is fine just the way it is.

It’s not that we don’t know what to say or how to say it. If you Google “feedback,” all that you need to know will come pouring out of your computer. (Alas, in a moment, I’m going to add to the deluge!)

We know what we should do, but we still don’t do it. Why? I think it’s partly because we don’t want to inflict pain on others. (Remember, the message you are sending is that “your baby is ugly.”) But I also think it’s because managers are unskilled in this area. They just haven’t had enough practice to get better at it.

Giving feedback is a communication skill that can be developed through practice. First, my own two cents on feedback and then some ways in which you can start building your skills.

Definition: Constructive Feedback is information about a person’s performance or behavior intentionally delivered to that person to facilitate change or improvement.

Goal: To help the person understand and accept the impact of his or her behavior on self or others. It is not to change the person’s behavior or to give advice. Any behavior change is up to the recipient. In other words, feedback cannot be forced upon the person, it must be voluntarily accepted.

The Feedback Conversation: Here’s a 4-step process to help you structure your feedback conversation.

  1. Ask the person if it’s okay to give feedback. Remember that the purpose of constructive feedback is to help the person adjust behavior. If the person isn’t ready to hear the feedback, chances are, he or she won’t be ready to change. Asking also shows that you respect the person. “Can I share something with you? or; “Can I give you some feedback?” And what if the person says “no”? Well, maybe now really isn’t a good time to hear what you have to say. The person may be stressed or not feeling well and wouldn’t be receptive to what you have to say in any case. So, if the person says “no,” respect that. Say, “Okay, let’s talk later then.” Try again later, and if you still get a “no,” schedule a time to talk. Say, “I respect that now isn’t a good time. You tell me when we can meet.”
  2. Describe the specific behavior that you’ve observed or experienced, keeping all judgment out of it. Tell only what you saw or heard. “You’ve been late three times in the last two weeks.” One of the most challenging aspects of giving any kind of feedback is in describing the actual behavior without judging it. When you judge behavior you are putting your own label on it. Saying, “You seem really lazy” is a judgment call. Saying, “You’ve been late three times . . .” is a statement of fact.
  3. Impact: Say how the person’s behavior has affected you, the team, the organization, or even the person him/herself. “When you come in late, others have to cover for you in the call center and you miss the morning staff meetings.”
  4. Next Steps: Ask the person how he or she can fix the problem. Don’t offer a solution. If the person is stuck, offer to talk again later. Offer help only when warranted. “What can you do differently?” or (maybe); “What can you do about this and how can I help?”

Building Your Skills: Think about this. How did you learn how to print your name? To play the guitar? To dance? You practiced. You worked through drills and exercises. You got frustrated, you made mistakes. But you got better at it, right? You can get better at giving feedback too. Here’s how:

Do it early. Address the issue as soon as possible. Don’t wait until the person’s performance has slipped well below standard before speaking up. Providing immediate feedback:

  • Allows the person to quickly change course (delayed feedback may result in dealing with ingrained behaviors, which are much tougher to tackle).
  • Is more accurate, since you are both likely to remember the circumstance.
  • Reduces anxiety because you’re addressing the problem before it has gotten out of hand.

Do it often. Feedback should be a daily occurrence, a part of your normal routine. Your first conversations may not go so well, but don’t let that stop you. Keep at it until it becomes second nature to you. If you need to rehearse the conversation with someone you trust beforehand, do that.

Feedback really is the “breakfast of champions.” Don’t skip it.

Until next time . . .

Your Baby is Ugly! Overcoming the Fear of Feedback, Part I

Ah, feedback! We can’t live without it and yet many of us do. When it comes to constructive criticism, it’s hard to say what we hate most: giving it or receiving it. Most of us would rather (fill in your own particular horror) than give or receive unfavorable comments about behavior.

Here’s why feedback is so hard. When you tell someone his or her performance is not up to par, no matter how well you’ve crafted your message, the receiver hears only this:

Your baby is ugly!

Oweee. That really hurts.

When we receive that kind of feedback, weird things happen to us. We get all prickly. We squirm. We blush. We make excuses. We deflect. We argue. We cry. We do almost anything to get out of hearing it.

And knowing how hard it is to receive it, it’s only natural that we avoid giving it. We do so at our peril however, for feedback can be a powerful tool for growth and development—for us and for others.

Think about the last time you received constructive criticism at work. Think about how you felt when someone called your baby ugly. If you’re like most people, you went through various stages of thoughts and emotions.

SARAH is an acronym that describes those stages. Knowing how you respond to such criticism (and forgiving yourself when you do), can help you come out the other side with your dignity intact and a chance to improve your performance.

Here are the five stages of SARAH:

S – Surprise/Shock. “Really!? You’ve got to be kidding! Are you talking to me?” This kind of feedback may surprise or even shock you. Recognize that this as a normal human emotion, one that will pass in time. Don’t respond in the moment, just try to listen to what the person is saying.

A – Anger. “How dare you say that to me!” Surprise and shock may be replaced by anger. If the feedback came anonymously, you may demand to know who said it. Once again, this is a natural emotion. Hold back in responding until the anger subsides.

R – Rationalization/Rejection. “No wonder he thinks I can’t run a good meeting. He wouldn’t know an agenda if it hit him in the face. Besides, why am I getting punished? I’m only doing this because no one else will.” You may reject the remarks out of hand or try to rationalize them in some way. You may make excuses or blame other people. Your statements may seem logical to you, but they really aren’t. Forgive yourself. Know that this is your way of trying to regain some control.

A – Acceptance. “Well, maybe I do need to keep better track of time and not let people dominate the discussion.” You can now look at the feedback with a degree of objectivity, take what’s valuable to you in terms of your own growth and development, and disregard the rest. It’s your choice.

H – Help/Hope. “I actually like chairing these sessions. I’m going to ask if I can take a course on meeting management.” That’s a big first step toward learning how to accept feedback in the way your boss intended—as a way to boost your performance.

When you get really good at receiving feedback, you can seek it from your boss, your peers, and even your staff. It’s one of the fastest ways toward a growth spurt!

Now that you’ve got some guidelines for receiving feedback, my next post deals with how to give it. (Gulp!)

Until next time . . .