The Gift of Feedback

Do I have spinach in my teeth?

Telling The Truth

Imagine your team is ready to walk into a client conference room and make an important presentation. One of your subordinates comes over to you, straightening their jacket and running a hand through their hair.  They stand in front of you, pause, and smile broadly.

Will you tell them them the truth?  Will you alert them to the spinach in their teeth?  Or will you keep silent about the green, leafy vegetable punctuating their smile?

When I ask these questions, most managers respond, "Of course I'll tell them!  It's in their best interest to know right away so that they can fix it."

So - here's the $64,000 question - what keeps you from giving immediate feedback in other situations?  When Susie alienates everyone in a meeting by interrupting them and failing to listen?  When Curt gives a long-winded talk to your team with too many slides and too much information on each slide, leaving the group bleary-eyed and confused?

Excuses for Withholding Feedback

Excuses I often hear include:

  • They ought to know, I shouldn't have to tell them.  (Hmmm.  If they already know, why are they behaving this way?)
  • I'm too busy for this. (Great.  Where does managing people fall in your priorities?)
  • I'll wait and see if it becomes a pattern before criticizing them.  (Bad idea.  Once it becomes a pattern, it's harder to change behavior.)
  • I'm afraid they'll get upset, and I don't want to deal with an emotional outburst.  (Wow.  Looks like you're teaching your people that they can get away with all sorts of behavior, as long as they threaten to get upset if you bring it to their attention.)
And I sometimes get this excuse:
  • Since I'm not perfect, who am I to criticize them?

The "I'm not perfect" excuse breaks my heart.  You see, no manager, no leader, no executive, no matter how much money they make or how successful they are - no one is perfect.  But that does not excuse you for withholding information that someone desperately needs.  

Forget trying to be a perfect role model.  Focus on giving accurate, impartial feedback.  

Simply Observing

Most people want to do a good job.  And want to know where they're falling short, so that they can improve. Your simple observations can be extremely helpful.

I recommend learning to stick  to observations and stay away from conclusions. For example, when you see me with spinach in my teeth, you might conclude that I neglected to brush my teeth after lunch.  You might be right.  But you might also be wrong - perhaps I brushed, but the spinach stubbornly remained!
Possibly Wrong Conclusion:  Looks like you missed a piece of spinach when you brushed.
If you start by stating your conclusion, we're likely to get into an argument.  Better to simply offer your observation.
Simple Observation: You have some spinach in your teeth.
I'm likely to thank you!  No one else has mentioned this to me and your feedback is a gift.  I am able to take appropriate action based upon your observation.

Your observation has nothing to do with your behavior, character, or leadership ability.  You are simply observing something that I missed and bringing it to my attention.  You're acting as a mirror, without judgment.

Observations vs. Conclusions

You don't have to be better (or even as good as) the person you are observing.  Just stay away from drawing conclusions.

Simple Observation: You interrupted people and didn't listen to them during this meeting.
Possibly Wrong Conclusion:  You don't care what other people think.
Simple Observation: You presented a lot of slides and a lot of information during this meeting.  I observed that several team members were confused.  
Possibly Wrong Conclusion:  You didn't practice your talk.

OK, I get it.  You might be thinking the possibly wrong conclusions.  Please don't share them.

And here's the good news - the more frequently you share simple observations, the easier it gets. And people will come to you more often for feedback, since they'll hear the truth.

No comments: