“Can I give you some feedback?”
There’s a big trend going around of giving people harsh feedback at work. The belief is that the way to increase performance in companies is through rigorous, candid, and often critical feedback. Such as constantly pointing out minor grievances and subjecting employees to six-monthly, awkward, real-time 360s.
Fundamental to giving feedback is the person or people giving the feedback.
It is assumed they (we/me) are a reliable rater of others. That they (we/me) have a clear-eyed view of you, your weaknesses, the areas where you need improvement, and what you need to do to lift your game. That they (we/me) are a source of truth when it comes to giving feedback. When in fact they (we/me) are often more a source of error than a source of truth.
A study conducted into feedback found that the strong negative emotion produced by criticism “inhibits access to existing neural circuits and invokes cognitive, emotional, and perceptual impairment,” (Psychology and Business Professor Richard Boyatzis).
In other words, focusing on people’s shortcomings does not enable learning and improvement, it impairs it. It inhibits our growth by focusing on our negative attributes and pointing out our flaws. Surely, you’ve noticed how when someone points out all your problems and flaws it just drags you down. Yeah, it sucks man!
Another way to approach giving feedback is to reframe your whole approach.
By asking, “How can I help each person to thrive, excel, and walk tall?” And you will discover that the way to do that is to point out people’s strengths and give them positive feedback. That’s exactly what I do in my Big YOU workshops.
One of the team exercises I run is, “What makes you great?”.
The very asking of this question reframes and redefines the whole way people think about themselves and one another, especially in the “critical feedback” environment most people find themselves in.
The view that every person has something “great” to offer – this very instant, without having to go on some course or program – is incredibly liberating.
I first ask participants, “What makes you great?”, and naturally everyone undersells themselves massively. Then I throw the question out to the floor. “So, what does make Jen great?”, and the accolades start pouring in.
“She’s so generous and kind. She’s a person who really cares. She never gives up. You can depend on her 100%”. And Jen’s face lights up as she breaks a smile, with a few tears welling up in her eyes; because nobody has even spoken to her like that before at work. I ask people, “Have you ever told Jen that before?” And the answer is always, “Never”.
The feedback given by participants is 100% pure affirmation, and people LOVE it (I highly recommend this as a fantastic exercise to do with your team). Because when you start seeing and owning the stuff that makes you “great”, your whole experience of yourself changes. And when you start listening and relating to the things that make your colleagues “great”, your whole experience of them changes too. And their whole experience of you changes because you’re seeing them in a new light.
So why not start being well-known for telling people what they did right in a real and genuine way.
“You did an awesome job” could be a common refrain. Forget open and honest, radical feedback. Blow some wind up their arses instead.
This article has previously been published on our Firebrand Website.