Talented people want to improve. Even small opportunities for adjustment are valuable. Receiving negative feedback is one of the most important paths to improvement.
Many managers avoid the negative feedback. “It’s a small thing.” is one excuse for not sharing the feedback. Many managers save negative feedback for the performance review, which is often a tragedy. Much time is lost and the negative feedback is more painful.
The most tragic lack of feedback is when someone is 45-years-old and has a career limiting behavior of which he is not aware. Managers have known the issue since he was 35-year-old. The individual gets stuck for 10 years. When he learns at 45, makes corrections, his career is already 10 years off track. “If only I had known this ten years ago!” is a common refrain we hear in coaching.
Two to Tango
Honest, compassionate, clear, timely and constructive feedback is the objective. The more the subordinate believes the manager has his/her best interest in mind, the better the environment is for communication. Many managers, also, want to feel respected when they give feedback. If they risk a strong negative reaction, it will often cut off feedback.
The main benefactor of negative feedback is the recipient. If you want to encourage someone to give you honest feedback, you must be open to it and accept it gracefully.
Deborah Grayson Riegel teaches management communication at Wharton School of Business. Here is a summary built on her suggestions:
- Give yourself negative feedback first such as, “I know that I tend to work quickly and sometimes overlook important details. I’d like to get better at that. Do you have any thoughts on how I could improve?” And then, once you have them talking, you can ask, “And is there anything else I could be working to improve right now?”
- Lay out your development plan and ask for help. List three things you are working on next. Ask if your manager thinks those are the most important and if there is anything else to be focused on at this time. Request ongoing progress reports.
- Frame as looking for the opportunity to improve. “What is something you think I need to learn to be more effective?” You can ask what the manager learned that would be helpful for you to learn. It frames feedback as a win-win opportunity.
- When receiving feedback that is minimized as “Just one little thing …” express appreciation for the feedback and ask follow-up questions for clarity and suggestions for improvement. Be clear. Say you really appreciate any constructive feedback no matter how big or small.
Pain Verses Hurt
Physical and emotional pain are natural and help us grow. Difficult feedback can be painful. It is the pain that helps us move to improve. We call it “tough love” when raising children. Caring and honest feedback that creates pain is a gift. It needs to be viewed that way by both the giver and receiver of the feedback.
Hurt is not constructive. It is often inflicted by bullies. It does not encourage growth. It injures people with no redeeming value. This is not the feedback we are discussing.
Reflection and Personal Feedback
One other source of feedback is your mirror. If you take time to reflect on what has gone well for you and explored your part in what happened it can be very productive. I find journaling to be very helpful. Many others do as well.
If you get feedback from a loved one, be sure to at least consider what might be true. It is often easy to brush away “nagging” comments. We do extensive surveys for our clients of the people they work with regularly. When clients show the data to their spouse, the response is, “That’s what I have told you for years.”
Sounds like a learning opportunity is close at hand.