Eight Mindsets that Lead to Feedback Failures - and How To Change Them.
At The Real Learning Experience, we operate from the belief that most people come to work wanting to do a good job.
We’re right 95% of the time, but 5% of the time we have to take a different approach.
That 5% is frustrating, but it’s preferable to the alternative–a belief that people don’t want to be at work and only perform if they feel they have to. Managers with that belief system are right 5% of the time and harm performance and morale the other 95%.
To do a good job, your team members need two critical things. We call them the golden bookends of high performance:
- Clarity–what does doing a great job look like?
- Feedback–am I doing a great job or not? If I am, show me appreciation. If I’m not, what do I need to do differently?
We will address clarity in a different article. Here, our focus is on feedback and why leaders struggle to give it, as well as solutions for each challenge.
I already give enough feedback!
75% of the leaders we work with tell us they already give a lot of feedback. But 95% of the team members we work with tell us they don’t get nearly as much feedback as they would like.
Who is right? Probably both, but that isn’t relevant. What matters is that 95% of team members believe more feedback would enhance their performance and workplace experience. That should include both appreciation for good work and guidance on improving when outcomes are less than optimal.
The solution: Give more feedback even if you think you give a lot already.
Why should I thank people just for doing their job?
Demonstrates gratitude and humanity? Absolutely not.
If you have hold this belief, you may be a manager, but you aren’t a leader. Leadership is about people, and people need appreciation, recognition, and affirmation. In the absence of those things, people wonder why they bother and they question whether they are doing a good job.
The solution: Don’t tolerate lazy thinking from yourself. Recognise that this mindset kills productivity and morale. It may also be symptomatic of a broader mindset that limits your leadership potential. If you aren’t willing to challenge this mindset, choose a career path that doesn’t involve leading people.
Feedback leads to conflict
Leaders often worry that feedback will be received poorly, leading to conflict, resentment and defensiveness.
Each of those outcomes is possible. Team members sometimes react badly even when the feedback is justified and delivered well. But that’s not a reason not to give it. Failing to provide feedback just perpetuates both problems–the performance issue and the avoidant communication culture.
The solution: give feedback in small ‘doses’ and frequently. Feedback becomes a headline event when it happens rarely, so make micro feedback a constant part of everyday conversations as you coach team members. Focus on catching people doing things right–most people do a lot more good than bad–which helps make feedback both constant and fair.
Conflict is bad
Giving feedback can involve hard conversations which feels like conflict to some leaders. Others worry these conversations will escalate into conflict. And they are absolutely right. But that shouldn’t be a problem.
There are only two bad types of conflict:
- Conflict that is handled poorly
- Conflict that is avoided
The solution: recognise that conflict is good and necessary. It is impossible for two human beings to share all the same ideas, priorities, values, perspectives, etc. Now extrapolate that out to a team of human beings working together. If that team always agrees on everything, they aren’t being honest. Things are being suppressed and left unsaid, and that creates tension.
Tension is a real problem. Dealing with it is like getting smoke into a bottle–you know there is something there, but you can’t get a grip on it.
The solution: Build your skills and confidence in conflict situations by recognising that it is healthy and speaking up when you disagree or have a different perspective. When giving feedback, accept that you may tell someone something they don’t want to hear. It may be uncomfortable for them, so you have to do it with dignity and respect. But you have to do it.
I might upset them
They may be upset, angry, disappointed–and they may be unhappy with you. No-one likes to be told that their performance or behaviour is not acceptable, but you are their manager, not their friend. Managing performance is a critical part of your responsibility.
The solution: Give abundant feedback, with a skew towards appreciation, praise and gratitude. That means, when you need to give less favourable feedback, it is in the context of the broader feedback relationship you have established. Notice that we don’t use the phrases ‘negative feedback’ or ‘constructive criticism’. Focus on being factual and specific–it is up to them whether they perceive feedback as positive or negative. You are just discussing facts and ways to maintain and improve performance.
They might not agree
They probably won’t, especially if the feedback is uncomfortable or if there is not a history of feedback being readily provided and received.
The solution: They don’t have to agree and you may need to acknowledge they have a different perspective. As a manager, you can’t require that someone agree with you. But you can require them to address a performance or behavioural issue whether or not they agree. Forget agreement and focus on commitment to the action you are asking of them
I don’t have time
I get it, you’re busy. But we all are, so we will skip straight to the solution on this one.
The solution: make time. If you manage other people, you are responsible for their performance and growth. High performance requires clear expectations and abundant feedback (refer to the golden bookends we started the article with). A lot of busy managers we work with implement strategies to help them build feedback into their busy days:
- Management by walking around–get up from your desk at least once each morning and once each afternoon. Walk around. See what people are doing. Have a chat. Catch them doing things right and thank you. Spot areas they are off track and coach them with micro feedback.
- A coffee a day–sit with one person, off the job, each day for the time it takes to have a coffee together. Check in with them, ask how they are going, invite feedback from them, and share some of your own observations.
The fallout isn’t worth it
We meet leaders who avoid feedback because they have a fear of bullying claims, stress leave, resignations, complaints to their manager, etc.
Each of these things can happen, so you need excellent strategies:
- Normalise feedback, as we outlined earlier. Feedback is more confronting for people when it isn’t consistent with the way we normally operate.
- Hold yourself to a high standard–never get personal or aggressive. Keep the discussions respectful, supportive and forward focused.
- If you plan to give feedback to someone you believe may react negatively, speak to key people before and give them a heads up. Confirm that they will have your back.
- Put it in perspective. If the price of retaining someone is allowing them to avoid feedback and continue to perform or behave poorly, isn’t the price too high?
What does this all mean?
There are a lot of reasons not to give feedback. It’s uncomfortable and time consuming. It can feel risky and confrontational. But you have to do it anyway. That’s what you signed up for when you became a manager.