The Gift of Feedback
You’ve probably heard “feedback is a gift” a time or two across your career. But it doesn’t feel like much of a gift whether you have to deliver the feedback or receive it. There’s joy in giving, especially this time of year, but we find little joy in year-end reviews or development discussions.
In fact, these meetings often feel more like a chore because feedback isn’t always well-received, and it often creates tension between a manager and an employee until you can move beyond it. When we ask managers to share their most challenging communication situations, feedback always makes the top three. Managers don’t like giving it, they aren’t good at it and they don’t always know how to move an employee beyond it.
And yet, when you ask employees about pivotal moments in their careers, they reflect on feedback or directions that set them on a different course or got them over a hurdle. They may not have liked “the gift” when it was received, but they valued the impact it had on helping them move forward.
Feedback is a gift that should be packaged in a way that both the giver and the receiver are open to engaging in it. And while feedback should be given frequently throughout the year, it seems very relevant and timely in December as the current year wraps up, the new year sets up and employees have an opportunity to reflect and reset for the year ahead.
Here are insights to consider from both sides of the discussion.
IF YOU’RE GIVING FEEDBACK…
Your mindset may begin with getting through it. You may have multiple feedback discussions you need to complete and summarize as a part of company policy for year end. But, feedback shouldn’t be a check-the-box task. While it doesn’t impact your career, it can have a profound impact on someone else’s. Be thoughtful about how you give it and approach it as something you’re willing to help someone work on and work through.
Keep these things top of mind.
The Coach and The Player: The best environment for feedback comes when an employee sees that you’ve shifted from their manager to their coach. Call that out at the start of the conversation so that they believe you’re trying to help rather than trying to correct. Managers approach feedback as telling someone what they did wrong and how to fix it. But a coach approaches feedback more as an opportunity for insight, impact and teaching. In fact, feedback is yours to deliver, but it is the employee’s to solve.
Raise questions, not answers: We grow through feedback because we process and solve for the issues within the feedback. Allow an employee to process feedback, good or constructive. This is an important conversation for them, allow them to see it as such. Don’t offer solutions, let the employee talk through what they can do differently. Sometimes, it may require letting them process it and come back a few days later with their thoughts. Position the impression and then wait…for ownership and reaction.
Share real-time observations: Feedback will draw a non-verbal response, even if the employee says very little. Share what you observe. It can often help illustrate the feedback or draw an employee into the discussion.
EX: “John, I imagine that wasn’t what you wanted to hear. And, your lack of response makes me feel as if you don’t want the insight or don’t understand the observation. Actually, it’s similar to how you come across in meetings.”
Manage resistance: If you’ve decided feedback is important enough to share, don’t allow an employee to be dismissive of it. Feedback should be the beginning of discussion, not the end of it. Put the responsibility on the employee to come back with ideas and next steps. Allow an employee to set a timeframe and a context for working through an issue. How they handle the follow-up steps speaks volumes about their willingness to learn and grow.
IF YOU’RE RECEIVING FEEDBACK…
Your mindset may be “grin and bear it,” especially if you’re ready for holiday celebrations and downtime before the year ahead. But, don’t dismiss it. Feedback is a gift and an opportunity to learn as much as you can about perception around your brand and discussion in year-end talent reviews. If you ask the right questions, you may get revealing answers.
Keep these things top of mind.
Be open, be still, and listen… to understand perspective. It doesn’t matter if you agree. Impressions are always helpful because they identify how your brand is being perceived. You may feel as if some feedback comes from a manager who just doesn’t see things the way you do. But even when feedback is isolated to a specific event or meeting, it’s an impression and the more you know about impressions, the more successful you will be in managing them.
Lean in to this conversation, don’t shut it down. Managers don’t like giving feedback and few are good at it. If they sense you’re uneasy, they clam up quick. Don’t challenge the input, seek to understand it and expand it. Ask for more insights. Ask how others reacted to it or whether your manager knows if it’s still a concern. When a manager can’t clearly explain an impression, it may be a sign that it’s a broader impression among their peer group.
EX: Manager says: “You need to show up better in staff meetings. You seem uninvolved and uninterested.” You say: How do I create that impression? And the response you get is: “I often see you on your phone and it seems like you’re not engaged in the discussion.”
This example illustrates a manager who observed a behavior and is very clear about the impression they formed as a result of it. It’s easy to fix. Leave your phone out of staff meetings.
EX: Manager says: “You need to show up better in staff meetings. You seem uninvolved and uninterested.” You say: How do I create that impression and what can I do to improve it? And the response you get is: “Well, you should participate more. Speak up and add your perspective.” You might say: “Can you think of a situation where you felt my perspective was missing or could have changed a conversation?”
This example illustrates a manager who has an impression that may have been shaped by others or from a broader impression of you. It’s harder to resolve because the manager doesn’t have clarity on what they expect to be different. You need to know more about overall impressions of your brand beyond the staff meeting and you should ask for them.
Circle back with action steps. Don’t leave the feedback unresolved with a manager. Even though they don’t like giving it, they remember it. And, they will remember how you responded and what you did about it. No one is perfect; we’re all growing and learning along the way. But we remember how people respond to feedback and our willingness to share more is based on the employee’s receptiveness.
Feedback is a gift, and managers and employees should treat it as one. While feedback may create angst on both sides of the discussion, it’s a critical step to help anyone move forward in their career.
So, embrace it as the year wraps up…and say “thanks” to the person who took the time to make it worthwhile.
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