The GIft that Keeps Giving
Women in Business
by Cindy Petitt
This time of year creates a sense of excitement and gratitude as the holidays approach. However, for some it also creates a sense of dread because end-of-year means performance feedback time. There is dread by both the givers and the receivers of feedback when there is anything but great news to discuss.
Feedback has gotten a bad wrap because too often it is given in the context of judgment so it feels like a criticism. In contrast, feedback given for the purpose of development and learning is an investment. When delivered properly, it is the gift that keeps on giving.
The greatest legacy of good leaders is the lives that they have influenced and the generation of future leaders they have developed, which was accomplished through feedback. Legacy building leaders also understand both sides of the equation. They love getting feedback that challenges them to set a higher bar for their behaviors, thinking, decisions, actions and performance. So let’s take a deeper look at the true power of feedback.
As the Giver
Your willingness to give feedback to your staff, colleagues, managers and others who you care about is a statement of your commitment to them. The tone and way in which the feedback is presented is a statement about your level of emotional intelligence. The way the feedback is worded is a statement of your mindset (i.e., whether you are focused on judging, learning or investing). The accuracy of the feedback is a statement of your fairness and open-mindedness. Therefore, being thoughtful about what and how you say it makes the difference between a criticism that is rejected and an insight that is appreciated.
Here are a few simple tips for giving feedback that fosters growth:
>Be clear about the purpose of the feedback (i.e., learning and investing).
• Good: “Let’s discuss what happened yesterday to understand what was going
on and how we can prevent similar situations in the future.”
• Versus: “We need to talk about yesterday. It was a mess.”
>Focus on behaviors and situations that are observable rather
than on assumptions about intent or motivations.
• Good: “Your report was due last week, and I received it from you yesterday.”
• Bad: “You don’t seem to be taking your work seriously
because you are missing deadlines.”
>Be specific and objective when describing the behavior, rather than being judgmental.
• Good: “When you brought up this point in the meeting, it took the discussion
off topic and lost focus. Can you see how that happened?”
• Bad: “You really confused everyone in the meeting. You need to stay focused.”
>Describe the impact of the behavior or action.
• Good: “Turning your report in late means we missed our window for getting a decision from the Board. Now everything is pushed back a month.”
• Bad: “You need to turn your report in on time and if you can’t,
I will find someone who can.”
>Involve the other person in identifying what action to take.
• Good: “How could this situation have been managed differently?
What can you do to reconcile with your co-workers?”
• Bad: “You need to apologize to your co-workers for your behavior.”
>Help the person focus on opportunities rather than constraints.
• Good: “What will it take to make this work . . . ?”
• Bad: “You can’t do this because there is not enough money
in the budget.”
Follow up to ensure and support accountability and ongoing development.
As the Receiver
There are three common mistakes people make when it comes to learning from feedback. The first is to become defensive when someone is telling you something you don’t want to hear. The second is never asking for feedback, or asking for such general feedback that the person you are asking is at a loss for words. The third is disregarding the feedback.
Here are a few tips for overcoming these mistakes.
> When someone gives you feedback, even if it feels like an unjust criticism, focus on learning as much as you can about what they are trying to say. Remember, seek to understand first and, if necessary, defend later. Often your resistance is a signal that they have touched on something you need, but are afraid to hear.
> Be specific in how you ask for feedback. For example:
• Good: “I am working on speaking more slowly during my presentations. Can you give me feedback after the presentation on how I am doing?”
• Versus: “How did I do?”
> Do something with the feedback you receive. If someone tells you how certain behaviors negatively affect him or her, showing no sensitivity to that going forward communicates a strong message that you don’t care. On the other hand, not all feedback will be worthwhile, particularly when it is judgmental. Dig deep to find the pearl of actionable learning, and disregard the emotional baggage that came with it.
As we enter this gift-giving season please remember—
as both a giver and a receiver—thoughtful and heartfelt feedback, delivered in a positive way, can be a tremendous gift that lasts a lifetime.
Cindy Petitt is an executive coach and management consultant. She has conducted studies on factors that help and hinder the advancement of women to executive levels in male dominant corporate environments. She also conducts workshops for women on topics such as personal presence, communicating with influence, and leadership; and workshops for men and women on gender differences.