Do you remember those bumper stickers on the back of commercial vehicles that would say, “How’s my driving?” Do you remember the toll-free number along with it? Those stickers used to be very prevalent in the past, but they are seldom seen these days. A 2016 poll states that the majority of people who call those numbers are solely calling to complain. However, most people don’t use the number at all, let alone offer any positive comments about driving. And the people that are answering the phone expect to hear and are trained to handle the negative comments that tend to come in.
This sounds a lot like leadership now. Before, there was an open invitation to give others feedback on how they are doing, now, feedback is seldom seen.
In the case where feedback does occur, it is typically negative. Even though the research shows that leaders believe that negative feedback is more effective than positive, it is not true. So, what has happened to the art of feedback, and how do we get it back?
The Absence of Feedback
Our world is dominated by subjectivity. The events of life around us are influenced by personal feelings, tastes, and opinions, and now it is increasingly difficult to determine what is acceptable or unacceptable. Let me say here that what others believe is very important and it is truth to them. Just because one person sees the world one way, it should not infringe on the way another sees the world. In any event, what has happened is that when we have something critical to say to another person, there is a healthy fear of how a person might respond. Since a leader is unaware of the potential reaction, the choice is not to give the perspective at all. Thus, the loss of the art of feedback.
Many people believe themselves better than they actually are. That is the result of illusory superiority or the “above-average effect.” David Dunning, a psychologist at the University of Michigan states, “While most people do well at assessing others, they are wildly positive about their own abilities.” Research tells us that people, particularly poor performers, tend to overestimate their performance. Now, we have people that believe they are better than they actually are, have an invalid effect, and are not force multipliers. These poor performers have the potential, but how will they know unless someone tells them?
The Zenger Folkman research referenced above suggests that people do in fact want to know how they are doing. There is a sense of authority given when we tell them how well they are doing. The key is to disarm them of the negative bias toward feedback. How? Ask for feedback before giving it. Now the “power” is in their hands. Once you ask for feedback, the law of reciprocation comes into play as the person will naturally want to give the same opportunity that the leader has given to them.
Here are some keys to recover the art of feedback:
Be Emotionally Intelligent
Not everyone receives critical information in the same way. Knowing yourself, your people and how you all see the world will go a long way in being successful at giving feedback.
Be specific and concise
People do much better knowing exactly what the issues/challenges are because most people want to achieve success. If a person is to respond to feedback, they must understand their actions and/or attitudes without the extra fillers.
Be willing to listen more than criticize
Dr. Brene Brown, a world-renowned research professor, says that connection is “…the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued.” If a connection to feedback is desired, listening fills the bill to being seen, heard and valued. While the critique is valuable as well, the feedback will not stick unless they are heard too.
Be ready to offer all your resources
In the moments when we give feedback, we must make it clear that the next steps include more than just the individual making a difference in motivating improvement. Have a plan for their improvement, but be careful that they are more a part of the plan than you are (see step one to make them a part of it).
Be ready to recognize
The sweet spot for most people is when they are recognized for their hard work. After reviewing the feedback plan and time is given to execute, the best mode of follow-up is recognition of the working of and the measurable results of that plan. Acknowledging their hard work makes the tense moments of feedback worth it.
Bringing back the art of good, healthy, consistent feedback that yields high-performance within a team, an organization, a family or even a community allows for greater communication, deeper understanding of one another, higher levels of awareness and emotional intelligence, and better results. This is an excellent first step to becoming an effective servant leader.