21 March 2023

Making Feedback Work

Feedback is a gift

Whenever the words, ‘Would you like some feedback?’ are uttered, for most people, there follows a sigh and a sense of foreboding. For these words almost inevitably end up with criticism and at least a small sense of unworthiness. The words rarely feel like something good is coming, so they are received with fear and often resentment.

Leaders are generally not very good at giving feedback, so they do it rarely. They do it when something hasn’t quite gone to plan and pretty consistently, they do it badly.

Most people do a pretty good job with what they attempt in their work, yet the way they are provided with information that might help them get better at what they do is rarely in the right wording, manner or at the right time.

The simple framework of ‘What went well?’; ‘What might you do to make it even better next time?”, (asked of themselves first is best), will often be the most fruitful way to go. Leaders struggle with this. If the truth be known, such an interaction at almost any opportunity can be received well, for it is constructive and provides a sense of capability first, before the opportunities to be ‘even better’.

Now, if this can be coupled with regularity of giving feedback so that those feared words are always seen as an omen of a nasty experience around the corner, feedback would become a much more attractive proposition for growth.

Yet there is one opportunity that leaders find even more challenging.

They do not receive feedback themselves very well.

To lead by example, leaders can – and must – be prepared to seek feedback for their own actions, behaviours and attitudes from their people too. If they might do this, then their giving of feedback will be much more readily received.

But there is more they need to do. Leaders need to receive their feedback well. This means that feedback given to them – which in itself can be an intimidating challenge for their people – much be received graciously, with thanks and with no excuses or explanations.

For a leader to try to explain or excuse their way out of challenging feedback (‘What would make it even better next time?’) sets a very poor example and often pushes back the gift. Their more senior role so often means ‘one rule for them and one for us’, so to encourage others, they must receive feedback in a good way.

There will be occasions where there is a temptation to make excuses, for (most) leaders are human too, yet where possible, a simple ‘Thank you for that feedback’ is all they must do. They can then choose to respond to the feedback given.

Another tweak to build their relationship with their people even more, will be to tell them the outcome of the feedback and/or to ask for more information as they seek to develop and grow themselves. This is a benefit in many ways, for it shows how the leader values the feedback; it shows they are taking it seriously and above all, it shows that they do not believe themselves perfect, but also ready to be better at what they do.

Feedback is a gift. When used wisely and constructively it can make a huge boost to performance, whoever is on the receiving end.

‘Martin Haworth is an experienced UK-based coach and trainer with TNM Coaching, working worldwide with enlightened organisations who see the light in leadership and management development.’

Written by Martin Haworth


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