Afraid to give feedback?
Whether your answer is “yes” or “no,” you’re probably more reluctant than you realize.
How do we know? Just take this test: How often do you tell a colleague he has spinach in his teeth, lipstick smudged on her face or the fly down on his pants?
If you’re like 408 people in a study of 412 people, you won’t blurt out an uncomfortable truth – spinach, lipstick, zipper – even when there’s so little to lose. Make it something bigger to lose – a good relationship with an employee, respect from the boss or camaraderie with a colleague – and giving feedback is even scarier.
Afraid to give feedback irony
For some managers, the feedback loop is like a scenic lake walk. For most, the loop is more like a marathon trail they aren’t trained to run!
But it shouldn’t be for many reasons, and this one may be the most important.
“People overestimate the negative consequences of giving feedback for themselves, as well as underestimate the benefits for the other person,” one of the researchers, Francesca Gino, tells us in Harvard Business School’s Working Knowledge. “This misunderstanding persists even when the feedback giver and receiver know each other well.”
Bottom line: Managers are afraid to give feedback even though employees want it.
It’s not just any feedback. Employees crave information that will help them do their work better. Yet, just 26% of employees feel the feedback they get actually helps them do better work, according to Gallup research.
Fortunately, the critical information they crave can come from acknowledgment, praise, constructive feedback and even a dose of well-intentioned criticism.
Managers just need to get over being afraid to give feedback.
This can help: four keys to better feedback conversations.
No. 1: Forget fear, focus on gain
Let’s go back to that study when just four people told the other person about the odd red mark on her face. Why did they stay quiet? Participants told the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology researchers that they’d actually want that kind of feedback. But they seldom thought other people wanted to receive that feedback.
“People tend to focus on the discomfort of delivering feedback, and underestimate the value of the feedback to the other person, including how much they would appreciate the feedback, and how impactful it would be,” says another of the researchers, Nicole Abi-Esber.
Key: Don’t underestimate the power of your feedback. If you’re reluctant, ask others if they’d accept feedback, without sounding critical. Say, “Are you open to some insight/feedback/thoughts on that?”
No. 2: Put yourself in their shoes
The researchers confirmed most people want feedback more than their boss thinks they do. So just before you bite your tongue, ask yourself, “Would I want the feedback if I were in their shoes?”
If it’s something that can help improve work, efficiency or a career, you’d likely want it. And so would the other person.
Key: Again, remember to offer it, rather than blurt it out. For instance, you might say, “Are you OK with me sharing something that might help you do this better/more efficiently/strategically?”
No. 3: Remember when
Once you decide to give feedback — or do it because it’s a must — think back to a time when you received advice that was particularly helpful. Perhaps it was early in your career, before a once-in-a-lifetime presentation or when you felt defeated.
Focus on two things: How the feedback-giver made you feel, and the practical tools they gave you.
Keys: To make the other person feel good about the feedback, keep a gentle, non-condescending tone. And to be certain they take away the practical tool:
- share it
- explain how you use it
- explain how it impacts your work, and
- describe how you feel when you continue to use that tool.
No. 4: Open the two-way street
One of the problems with traditional feedback — the kind most managers grew up with — is that it was a one-way street: The boss gave direction on an observation of a past mistake.
The Gallup researchers suggest a two-way, look-both-ways kind of street to make it a more comfortable and effective conversation.
Specifically, you both talk about now and what’s next. In that conversation, you might mention an observation, but the focus is on the employee’s strength and future potential. Then your insight feeds into how they’ll advance their career, improve performance or generally be more satisfied at work.
Key: Keep it positive. You might say, “This looks great because X. I can see you did Y to make it happen. Do you want to talk about Z and explore ways we can exceed expectations next time?”