I live by the Neuro-Linguistic Programming presupposition that “there is no such thing as failure, only feedback.” We can only fail when we become insensitive to feedback, ignore feedback or hold on to limiting beliefs that prevent us from learning the lessons we can learn from feedback. Having this kind of growth mindset wasn’t always easy for me. I was a perfectionist – and sometimes still fall into this trap – and, as a result, was highly critical of myself. If I had not lived up to my unrealistically high standards, I would often label my behaviour as a “failure” and think it was just me giving myself constructive criticism.
I’ve come to learn that there is no such thing as constructive criticism. Criticism is evaluative while feedback is descriptive. Evaluation is not easy to work with constructively. Feedback provides information that can be used to perform personal evaluation. Feedback does not assume that the giver is totally right and the receiver wrong. Instead, it respects that there are usually two “right” answers to everything and everyone has their own unique map of the world (i.e. their own perspective). Just about all behaviour is useful in some context. Feedback is simply about discerning whether the desired results are being achieved using that behaviour in that particular context.
Creating a culture where feedback is normalised, given effectively and received with a growth mindset, is an integral part of the work we do with leaders and teams. Here’s a framework to assist you in remembering and implementing important…
Key Steps to Emotionally Intelligent Feedback to WIN FASTER™:
Welcomed and with permission. If the receiver is not in the right state-of-mind and/or does not want the feedback, even the most well intentioned and well-structured feedback will not meet its objective. Perhaps the receiver needs time to calm down or to get through month-end and so on. As a leader, there might be times that an employee (or child if we think of personal contexts) does not really want your feedback, but it is your responsibility to give it. At least give them a choice about when to have the conversation.
Intentional and with positive intent. Giving effective feedback is a huge responsibility. I have lost track of the number of hours spent questioning my intent when giving feedback and ensuring that it is indeed positive and intended to support not judge. Then there are the countless hours spent preparing for the conversation, structuring the feedback effectively and choosing my words with care.
Needs are considered. What does the receiver need? What does the team need? What do you need? I like to ask, “What would the highest outcome of this conversation be for me, for the receiver, for the team/family, for the business?” Really consider the situation from everyone’s perspective and not just your own.
Frequent. The more often it happens, the more normal it becomes. If you wait for the annual or quarterly review, or until something goes wrong, it perpetuates anxiety around feedback. We want to be giving reinforcing and corrective feedback continually. Remember that the human brain is always scanning for feedback on how we are doing in relation to our social environment. There is nothing worse that hearing, weeks after the fact, that you made a mistake. It’s like finding spinach in your teeth after an afternoon of key meetings and no-one told you.
Accurate. Ensure that you have your facts straight and have considered them through the eyes of the receiver. You don’t want to be jumping to conclusions. For example, if someone achieved great business results at the expense of relationships, you don’t want to be congratulating them without giving corrective feedback too. In the same way, we don’t want to be assuming the worst, just because a key customer has complained.
Specific. Refer to what a person does rather than labelling them. For example, you could say that a person “talked more than anyone else in the meeting” rather than saying “you took over.” Describing the behaviour allows for the possibility of change. When tempted to generalise or label, ask yourself what behaviour you saw or heard that made you arrive at that conclusion. This will not only prevent you from generalising but also give you specific examples to share with the receiver. This is equally important when praising. Telling someone that they did a “great job” is not as impactful as saying that you really value the way they succinctly present the key points during the management meeting and handled questions very honestly and professionally.
Timely. A rule of thumb that can be helpful is to ‘praise in public’ but ‘correct in private’. Just be aware that some people might not be comfortable being praised in front of others – respect their wishes. And there are many instances where correcting in public works well if the feedback is given well, the team is emotionally mature, and a culture of safety and effective feedback is well established.
It is also important to remember that the sooner we can give feedback the better, but it should not be given when emotions are running high, the receiver is not ready for it or you are tired, angry, stressed and so on. Wait – just not for too long.
Empathetic. Acknowledge people’s feeling without judgement. This does not mean your feedback should lack candour. In fact, when we really care about people and respect their feelings, candid feedback usually goes down better. The relationship is respected, and the receiver is more likely to receive it well. Remember that empathy does not mean endorsement.
Giving feedback definitely isn’t easy but it does get easier the more you do it. Do you have any questions or anything I can support you with? I’d be happy to support you.
Next time I write, I will focus on how we can get more feedback and how to use it well to help you track your performance on a task, recognise upcoming risks and/or more useful actions so we can…
‘be the difference that makes the difference.’
NOTE: The information in my blog may be freely shared and re-used in any online or offline publication, provided it is accompanied by the following credit line: This was written by Dr Sharon King Gabrielides, and originally appeared in her free weekly ‘Key Steps Food for Thought Blog’ available on the Key Steps website.
About Dr Sharon King Gabrielides
Sharon is a dynamic facilitator, speaker and executive coach with over 25 years’ experience in leadership development and organisational transformation. Her PhD thesis contributed a framework for holistic and sustainable leadership development that was published by Rutgers University in the USA. She is faculty of numerous business schools and highly sought-after by leading corporates because she works hand-in-hand with them to create sustainable results and long-term success. In 2020, Sharon was inducted into the Educators Hall of Fame, which is a lifetime achievement award, recognising excellence and her contribution to the field.
Sharon is one of only three women in South Africa to have achieved the title of
Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) – the Oscar of the speaking industry. She is also a COMENSA Master Practitioner (CMP), a qualified Modern Classroom Certified Trainer (MCCT™) and an accredited Global Virtual Speaker. Sharon is also a registered Education, Training and Development Practitioner (ETDP), holds an Honours degree in Psychology and practices as an NLP master practitioner.
Most important to Sharon is that she has become known for her genuinely caring manner, practical and transformational approach, and for providing valuable tools and that allow people to take Key Steps to really… ‘be the difference that makes the difference.’