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Thursday Insight: Constructive Feedback Trumps Cheap Shots

Thursday Insight: Constructive Feedback Trumps Cheap Shots


In a week when I’m writing about feedback, it’s perhaps ironic that President Trump is in the news again for his unusual method of firing staff. This time it was Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who apparently discovered he’d lost his job when Mr Trump announced his replacement on Twitter. If what we’ve read since his inauguration is to be believed, it seems President Trump quite often employs social media as a way of indirectly giving members of his staff feedback. Even in today’s digital age, it’s an unusual strategy. 

I’m sure we can all see the attraction of giving feedback via our social media feeds, and many of us have probably adopted that approach at some time, when complaining about an organisation. Indeed, we live in an age where sometimes the only way of guaranteeing a response from an organisation that’s provided poor service is to publicly name it in this way. But should we adopt the same approach to individuals?

It’s certainly tempting to avoid direct feedback sometimes. We might feel anxious about how the other person is going to react to our criticism. We might not be sure what to say to explain our disappointment without emotions spiralling out of control.

And there are lots of ways to give feedback indirectly. There’s the manager, for example, who fires an email back to a member of staff whose report contains a number of errors: “Please READ your work before submitting it to me!”, capitalising certain words and adding an exclamation mark to emphasise his or her displeasure. Ouch, that’s aggressive.

Some feedback is really indirect, to the point of being passive aggressive. Like when someone says after a lengthy explanation in a meeting, “Some people should learn how to get their point across without using a million words.” 

And what about when people complain about a member of the team to others, perhaps in the hope that their dissatisfaction will somehow reach the person concerned and result in a miraculous change in behaviour. 

Giving feedback like this might make us feel better in the short term – it feels good to get things off our chest. But methods like these are extremely unlikely to lead to a positive outcome for either party and are loaded with the potential to make any situation a whole lot worse.

Feedback should be a fantastic gift. Used properly, it gives both parties a positive outcome and helps the recipient learn the impact of their action and what actions to use in the future.

Isn’t it interesting, that I’ve focused on giving negative feedback so far? We tend to notice poor behaviour more than great behaviour – and we remember it because it provokes an emotional reaction in us – often anger. But it’s important to remember to give positive feedback too, for exactly the same reason – it’s a gift that helps the recipient learn the impact of their actions and what actions to develop and/or continue using.

The Self Study, Feedback AID will help you avoid the temptation to give indirect feedback. It provides a fantastic framework for giving feedback that is effective and focused on a positive outcome. You might also want to look at Receiving Feedback – Johari Window and Lace, which will help you identify key messages and learn from them, even when feedback is not delivered with skill.

Finally, help your team understand the value of feedback with Why Feedback Matters.

Let me conclude by saying that, when you send us feedback about the materials in Managers’ Library, perhaps using the smiley face icons on the Managers’ Library homepage, it helps us learn and grow too, so please keep doing that.

Until next time...

March 22 2018 Rod Webb
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Rod Webb




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