Many leaders I have worked with struggle with teaching managers to give feedback or even giving it themselves. Perhaps a healthy dose of wisdom and life experience are needed to conjure up the confidence to give feedback to a team member that is supportive, helpful, and most importantly, well received. Ask most people why they avoid it, and it is usually out of fear that their feedback will not be well received. So they opt to not give it, or skirt around the issue.
There are a lot of articles and research around giving feedback. We’ve all heard of the “feedback sandwich” where critical feedback is bookended with positive statements. But I think many employees can perceive this approach as inauthentic, or perhaps as “beating around the bush.” Why can’t we just be direct with one another, especially if it is coming from a place of caring?
One skill and potential cultural value that I believe leaders should focus more on is Receiving Feedback.
Here are some ways you can promote this value:
Start by modeling
When you are in group or individual meetings, ask participants for feedback on your ideas or suggested approach to a problem. Not that you have to be the one with all the ideas of solutions, but let’s face it, as a leader many people look to you for answers. And everyone wants a confident leader. FALSE! Showing humility (“I don’t have all the answers!”), and an openness to different perspectives can not only generate novel solutions, but demonstrates to your team that being open to feedback is something you value and produces superior results.
Encourage those around you to seek it
When managers come forward with difficult situations, it is not uncommon for the leader’s instinct to be to issue directives and seek to assign blame (often framed as “accountability”). However, taking a moment to pause, and encourage managers to ask questions and seek more information to understand the issue can help them reposition critical (and potentially harsh) feedback as caring concern. Saying, “I noticed something is off with your performance, and I wanted to see what’s going on and how I can help” can be a great conversation starter with a team member struggling with something at work, or perhaps outside of work.
Praise and invite criticism
Most people want to arrive at a consensus when discussing problems, and quickly. Often, leaders do not want to dwell on problems for too long at meetings, and also want to reach a speedy consensus so they can “move on” to other topics. But sometimes it is worthwhile to dig in by inviting additional discourse. Asking questions like “is this our only option?” or “what are the risks to taking this approach?” can encourage team members who are holding back concerns to speak up. And when they do, acknowledge that you value their opinion, even if you don’t agree, as it will send a clear message that it is safe to have a different perspective.
I try to remind new team members, myself and my children that coach-ability is one of the most important skills in life, not just on the playing field, if you want to continue to grow. Letting people know that you are not only open to, but yearning for feedback will encourage more of it to come your way. When feedback can flow through your team without friction, you will unlock tremendous potential in your team members and help everyone get closer to optimal performance.
So instead of worrying too much about how people give feedback, consider focusing on how they receive it, and opening up more lines of communication with your team!