Feedback – it’s not about you, it’s about them

So the thing about feedback is that we often think of our own discomfort in giving it. It feels awkward, uncomfortable. We worry what the other person might think of us. What they might say about us. Whether they might get angry.  How they’ll react.

But here’s the thing.

Feedback isn’t about you -it’s about the other person.

And if it is delivered appropriately (remember Brian Cook’s — Right Place, Right Time, Right Way) and with good intent, then despite the uncomfortable feeling on your behalf, it’s generally a good thing to do.

Think about if you had spinach in your teeth, or your stockings tucked into your skirt, or your zip unzipped. Would you rather walk around all day because the people around you felt too embarrassed to tell you? Of course not. Almost always, we are inordinately grateful to the person for pointing it out to us! (Preferably at 8am in the morning rather than 430pm in the afternoon).

And here’s something else — it’s about being fair to the person and about giving them the chance to grow, change and improve. Far too often I have sat in termination meetings where issue after issue is being raised by the manager, and the employee says “if only I had known, I would have done something about it.” By not telling them, you’re denying them the opportunity to change, purely due to your own discomfort with the process.

Of course, sometimes, the feedback you’re giving is very uncomfortable (ever tried telling someone that there’s been complaints about their body odour?) And sometimes it does run the risk that the person will get angry, deny it, react in a way that you can’t control.

But, if the default option is that you’re hoping that someone else will tell them, or that they’ll just work it out for themselves; that’s just not a great strategy.  Because usually, everybody thinks that somebody else is telling them, and relying on people to work things out for themselves is risky at best.

A few tips that have worked for me over the years:

  • Prepare in advance by being crystal clear on what you’re giving feedback on. What’s the issue, what was the impact of that issue/behaviour (if appropriate) and what action/behaviour/change would you like to see? Or be prepared to work together on future actions.
  • If necessary, write a script so you can see in black and white what you are saying and see if it makes sense.
  • Acknowledge that the conversation feels awkward or uncomfortable up front.
  • Take responsibility for your part if necessary but don’t own the issue or excuse the issue if it’s not yours to own.
  • Think about the “right time, right place, right way”.
  • Apply the “if it were me, how would I like to be treated” approach.
  • Make the feedback timely — it’s no good talking about something that happened months ago.

So, if the leadership fairy waved her magic wand and gave you a dose of courage to have that conversation you’ve been avoiding, which one would it be? How can you plan for it to give it the  best chance of success.

Remember, feedback is about giving someone the chance to change, improve and grow or remedy a mistake. By not giving them that feedback, you deny them that opportunity.

Feedback is not about you, it’s about them. Unless you don’t give them the feedback and then it does become about you.

Until next week, happy leading.

feedback, leadership, courage

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