I coached a client the other day, a manager of a fairly big company who had one big issue. He felt really uncomfortable every year during appraisal season. “I can’t tell people they don’t perform well, I just can’t.” he told me. “I can work extra hours, manage several tasks at the same time, I can give clear directions about projects and do other outstanding jobs, but I can’t destroy somebody’s day by telling them they don’t perform well. Please save my dignity and tell me how to get comfortable with it.”
I won’t go into further details about how we resolved the issue, but let me use this opportunity and put down few thoughts about giving feedback.
There is a disease currently spreading amongst people nowadays, it is called Perfectionism. It can be described as a person’s endeavour for flawlessness and setting excessively high performance standards, accompanied by overly critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others’ evaluations.
Perfect appearance, perfect job, perfect partner, perfect home, perfect family are just a few of the ideals that the society imposes upon us. And of course among other illusions, there is also a need for each individual to be perfect.
We all like to hear how great, amazing and wonderful we are or what an outstanding, special and perfect job we do. We are quite good at giving happy clappy feedback, right? But what happens when we need to tell someone that his or her performance or action wasn’t suitable?
In general I would distinguish between two different types of the so called “less desirable feedback”. One version that I call a donkey feedback and the other version that I call a professional feedback.
Let’s take a look at the difference between the two.
Donkey feedback would sound like: “You’re rubbish, you’re bad, you’re useless.” Donkey feedback has nothing else, but a negative charge in it and all it does is to cause the receiver to feel bad about himself or herself as it is normally aimed to attack receiver’s identity. There is no additional value it it. The receiver can not learn or grow from it.
On the opposite spectrum we have a professional feedback. A person giving a professional feedback is always aware of the fact that who the person is and what the person does are two different categories. Professional feedback always targets receiver’s action or performance (not identity like donkey’s feedback) and offers a suggestion of improvement. A person giving the professional feedback will offer the receiver a sensory based description of his or her current action or performance and at the same time offer a suggestion to how can he or she improve action or performance in the future. The receiver will understand clearly that just because they delivered certain job or performance appallingly, their identity didn’t change and will be given the opportunity to learn and to grow from the information received.
How to give the “less desirable feedback” properly is definitely a special skill and is one of the essential trades of a good manager. It doesn’t take long to learn, but there are definitely few crucial psychological factors that the managers need to pay attention to.
And what happened to the manager whom I mentioned at the beginning of the story? Well, we dug into the root of his problem, learnt few skills and today he is very comfortable with giving people very highly respected professional feedback. Not only his confidence grew, but the performance of his team improved remarkably too.
To finish this article, I will repeat Ken Blanchard’s quote: “When given properly, feedback is the breakfast of champions.”