Thinking about giving feedback…read this first.
Many years ago, I worked for a leader who would say to me (thankfully not too often) “Julie, we are going to have a coaching moment”. Now, you would think that my first thoughts would be – amazing, my leader is totally invested in my development. Not the case. In that moment, I felt anxious and concerned. Is that really how you want people to feel when you are about to give them feedback? I’d suggest not.
Importantly, feedback, framed properly, can be an impactful tool for engagement. However, don’t just jump in, ask yourself a few questions first:
- Have you built trust?
- Do you provide feedback often?
- Do you provide balanced feedback?
- Have you agreed on the type of feedback you will provide?
- Is the event or situation recent and therefore still relevant?
- Have you set up an environment where feedback is the norm?
Let’s start at the beginning – why is feedback important?
My general experience over the last 100 years (ok not really 100 years, but a long time) is that people want feedback. They want praise and constructive feedback so that they can improve and grow for their current or future roles. The general rule of the thumb I use is that, the feedback for an individual will be more impactful, where trust and respect are high in the relationship.
What happens to the brain when you are receiving feedback?
As Kendra Strudwick from the Neuroleadership Institute says, the words “can I give you some feedback?” has the same threat level as being in a dark alley alone at night. Think about it, this feels so true. I go back to my initial example, not only did I have a brain threat response, I also had a physical response – change of breathing, heart rate and sweaty palms. Now, you add “can I give you some feedback?” into a context where your team member is having a terrible day, you are also likely to be met with a reduced level of resilience. The key issue here is that when the brain is focused on the threat (and in survival mode), the individual is less likely to hear anything you are saying. Surely, as leaders we are very interested in making sure our feedback is heard, understood and has the right level of impact.
Now compare this experience to another example. I was facilitating a session with a group of leaders from a client, and following that session, I met with the Program Sponsor who asked me to reflect on how the session went. Now because I had a great relationship with the sponsor and we had established trust, two things happened. 1) I was in control of the reflection and therefore felt I could be completely honest and balanced in my response; and 2) The client was then able to agree with my reflection and provide some additional perspective. I walked away from the conversation feeling really positive. Now that is a brain-friendly outcome.
Why is a brain-friendly approach to feedback more important now during COVID?
I always think it’s much easier to build trust and understanding when you can see people in your workplace regularly. You are spending time together in the same room or space collaborating, but you also get to relate to them on a personal level more. You’ll get a better sense of how someone feels through their words and their body language. Some of this does not translate to an online space unless you are super intentional about the kind of culture and relationships you want to create or maintain.
This is also really relevant when you are talking about creating psychological safety, which is critical for things like problem solving and innovation and generally just good teamwork. If you are building an environment that supports brain-friendly feedback, you will go a long way to increasing productivity and performance in your team.
So the question now is, how do you establish a feedback relationship?
These are my easy to implement top tips:
- Set up your feedback preferences with your team member from the beginning. How do they like to receive feedback and how often;
- Get into a regular rhythm of feedback using self-directed feedback and observations so that the individual is in control (remember this is very brain-friendly);
- Ensure your team member has absolute clarity around your expectations of them in their role and in the business;
- Prior to giving feedback, understand where they are at – is there anything that is going on for them that you need to be aware of;
- Ask them to reflect on how they feel they are going first? This is so powerful, because it gives you a sense of where they are at (self-awareness) and how aligned your thinking is;
- Ask permission to provide feedback. If you’ve already established trust, set up feedback preferences and you’ve provided feedback on a regular basis, then this will be accepted better. Oh PS – allow them to say no or can we talk later. If they don’t feel they are in a position to receive the feedback, then wait.
Let’s also be quite clear about performance issues. If you have someone in your team who you feel is not performing, do not avoid having that conversation. You will do this person a massive disservice and there is no doubt your attitude toward your team member and the relationship with them will deteriorate. Additionally, your credibility with other team members will be a stake. Use the steps above to re-set.