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Posts tagged ‘Feedback’

Thumbs Up! Thumbs Down!

“Could I give you some feedback?”

Just reading these words brings a rush of adrenaline.

Thumbs up. Thumbs down. We are continually assessed, evaluated, rated, offered feedback. It began at home: do this, don’t do that, “No!” And continued from kindergarten: 300 assignments, papers, and tests per year of school. And in debates at work over which process works best, how to analyze the data flood, and where to spend the shrinking budget. And don’t forget performance reviews: hundreds of hours are spent preparing and engaging in that annual process.

Our entire lives we’ve received feedback: how to do it better, change, improve, and grow. Sometimes the feedback is immediately useful. But at other times it is off base, poorly delivered, or offered without understanding of our situation. Done badly, feedback can leave us angry, demoralized, and unappreciated.

Why is receiving feedback hard? How can we use challenging and even crazy-making feedback to gain insight and succeed?

Our first reaction after hearing feedback is to identify why it is wrong. And there is likely something wrong about all feedback: lack of understanding you, the situation, or even flat-out incorrect: Telling me to mentor people when that is your goal, not mine. Critiquing my new plan for training while forgetting that your plan doesn’t include an online component or even require electricity. Suggesting that 2+2=7. Once we’ve identified the mistake, we stop listening.

The challenge is to recognize our defensiveness and choose a different path.

Begin with identifying what is being offered. Feedback is a word that wears different masks. Are you being offered appreciation that encourages and motivates? Coaching that increases knowledge, skills, and abilities with an opportunity for growth? Or, it is evaluation that describes expectations and where you stand in relationship? Even when we’ve identified what is being offered, it can still be hard to understand and easy to dismiss.

Feedback often falls into one of three categories: helping you, helping the person offering feedback and your relationship, or helping the organization or team. Here are three strategies for moving beyond defensiveness and toward discovery for each category: identify your reaction, make the pitfall shift, listen, and ask follow-up questions.

  1. Reaction: That’s not who I am! Or, that’s wrong!
    Pitfall shift: from You are wrong. to That statement is inaccurate.
    Listen for: information that I don’t have, the other person’s perspective, impacts that I am creating without being aware
    Ask: Do you have an example? What are you concerned about in this situation? How do my actions impact you or the organization?
  2. Reaction: Really – after all my hard work? Or,you are the problem here, not me!
    Pitfall shift: from This is not my fault. to I can see my part; let’s look at the bigger picture because there a multiple things at play here.
    Listen for: what the system issues are, for the relationship issues, including what each person is contributing or not contributing to the issues.
    Ask: Help me understand what you are saying; then, I’d like to discuss how/when/why you are offering this feedback and my concerns. How do you experience me contributing to this issue; what is most upsetting to you?
  3. Reaction: I always make mistakes and mess things up. I’m a failure, right?
    Pitfall shift: from I’m hopeless. to I’m surprised and would like time to think; could we meet later this afternoon or tomorrow to create a plan?
    Listen for: can I look for the coaching that is being offered and find an opportunity to grow, rather than focus on the judgment? How can I change the way I talk to myself so that I don’t automatically swing toward disliking myself?
    Ask: In your experience with others, what steps could I take that would help me improve and grow? What could I change that would matter most to you and the organization?

When receiving feedback, be your own champion. You don’t have to decide whether the feedback is fair or even correct. You don’t have to promise change. Practice understanding what kind of feedback you are being offered, identify your reaction, avoid the pitfall, listen, and ask good questions.

Attempt to use the feedback to create possibilities and generate options. Look for options that benefit you, the feedback giver, and the larger team or organization. Agree on the goal and the process for next steps, even if it is gathering additional information, inviting others into the conversation, looking for strategies for working around individual failures, preferences, or tempers, or simply taking two weeks to see how things develop. Be clear. Know where each person stands when the conversation ends.

Remember, feedback conversations are not one-time events. Most often they exist as part of an ongoing relationship, with multiple interactions over time. Understanding your own reaction, where you stand, and what the next step for you is will help both of you relate. In the end, you are the most important person. You are responsible for your reactions and for your willingness to learn and profit from feedback.

What questions do you ask when evaluating feedback?

Waiting for feedback?

Over the last 2 or 3 months, I’ve written about the importance of leaders and managers giving feedback and the ongoing need to reinvent management as we know it.

So, it’s time to turn the tables and ask all employees to look in the mirror: Am I waiting for feedback? Why am I waiting for someone else to approve my work, to make a suggestion for improvement, or to give permission for a next step?

While no one wants to step over boundaries, the boundary line is more elastic than most of us think it is. And, I would argue that most bosses don’t want to spend all of their time supervising, let alone micromanaging. What many of them want is for people to be self-motivated and self-starting – to be self-employed at work:

Here are some of the unwritten attributes that define the self-employed at work phenomenon, which I’ve written about before from the boss’ perspective:

  • Be creative and inventive – see your work as owned by yourself, not by your employer or supervisor.
  • Be self-initiating and self-evaluating – identify problems and issues and evaluate what is working and what isn’t, suggest and initiate potential solutions. Don’t wait for others to do it for you.
  • Take responsibility – see yourself as an actor that participates in creating the internal and external work environment, you are as responsible for what happens in the organization as the next person, including your supervisor.
  • Be professional – master and author your work role and career. Don’t be an apprentice forever, continually imitate others, or only mimic the company line.
  • See the system as a whole – look beyond your own role and part to see the whole, your relationship to the whole, and how the parts work together.

In the end, each of us has to value and find meaning in what we do each day. So, let’s stop waiting for the person in the next cubicle, across the hall, or in the corner office to provide feedback, give approval, or check the “completed” box. It’s up to each of us to try out new ideas, move existing balls down the field, and be responsible for just getting it done. And, yes, we are capable of doing it – without waiting for feedback.

Leading through Empathy and Teaching

I’m excerpting a quote from Bob Sutton’s blog, Work Matters because it applies directly to my last several posts about feedback and how to promote learning, growth, and transformation. 

“Life is a lot better when [I] think about my job as one of helping everyone be good, helping everyone learn whatever they need, and teaching where I’ve got experience and expertise. When I think in terms of helping people learn to be even better, it automatically puts me into an empathetic mode (because teaching, fundamentally, is about understanding where the learner is coming from), and that sets up the interaction really well.  I can’t always stay in this teaching mode. Sometimes there are real pressures and things I need to deliver on.  Sometimes external stressors in my life cause me to forget to be empathetic. But usually now I can notice when it’s happening and correct it.”  

Read the entire post and comments here.

Feedback: When performance is poor

If feedback when performance is positive or somewhat less than 100% is challenging, giving effective feedback when someone has done poorly or failed is even more difficult. I suspect that the reason for this is that the emotional tension goes up dramatically – for the person delivering the feedback and the one receiving it. In my experience, the difficult work must be done before the encounter by the person delivering the feedback.

Let’s look at what doesn’t work so well first. To immediately access the emotional charge on both sides of the conversation, try starting the conversation with, “Well, why did you do that? What happened?”  Neuroscience tells us that both people will create a physical and mental reaction to the emotional charge. One way of thinking about it is fight, flight, or freeze. The delivering person will be in fight mode, which does not allow for clear thinking let alone good processing of incoming information. The receiver of emotionally charged feedback may fight back directly with anger or frustration, fight back indirectly with self-recrimination, freeze in fear and distress, or run from or avoid the encounter.

As with challenging feedback, the question I ask is, “What am I trying to accomplish here?” As I suggested in a recent post, if the answer is learning, growth, and change, then a frustrated, critical response will not provide success. This requires planning for meeting when both people are fresh and less likely to be reactive. Again, it is important to begin by acknowledging that the conversation might be uncomfortable and that you appreciate the person’s willingness to take time out to talk. Be clear that your goal isn’t to dissect what happened, analyze the problem, or put their job in jeopardy. State that your goal is to help them do their best, learn, and build their potential.

Follow with a good opening question that asks them to reflect, “How can we discuss what happened in a solutions-focused way?” Or, “I’m interested in how you think you did in this situation. On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate work?” You can follow with some other questions and statements, making certain to keep the conversation at the learning level – not in the details. Remember, avoid the impulse to suggest a solution, give advice, or tell your own story. Your role is to lead the person to their own “aha” moment of insight.

Some example questions and statements were listed in the recent post. Here are a few more that can help guide the conversation:

  • What is the biggest insight you’ve had about yourself from what’s happened? About your team?
  • What have you learned overall from the situation?
  • How committed are you to working to create a new approach?
  • Are you clear about what needs to happen next?
  • What resources or training will assist you in creating the new approach?

The bigger the emotional charge for both people, the more important it is for the person delivering the feedback to allow the other person to discover their own solutions and answers. Not only does learning take place, but the potential for ongoing growth and transformation increases. It’s time to consider eliminating “constructive feedback” and begin intentionally creating a climate of open communication and learning by asking people what they are thinking and discovering. This shift has the potential to deliver value to the organization and to the persons involved in the difficult feedback scenario.

Feedback: When things are less than 100%

Giving positive feedback when things go well seems logical and reasonable. When things are less than 100%, providing effective feedback is more challenging. The first thing many of us do is to say the first things that come to our minds, which often reflect frustration or anger. As always, the first person that needs to be considered in any situation is ourselves and our own behavior.

The question I ask is, “What am I trying to accomplish here?” If the answer is learning, growth, and change, then a frustrated, critical response will not provide success. What considerations go into my thinking on this issue?

First, the fact is that most of us are our own worst critics. We usually don’t need help to identify our failings. Secondly, neuroscience shows that it is just about impossible to change  our mental and behavioral wiring when we focus on what we don’t want to do. If we think about what we did wrong, we’re only reinforcing the circuits that create that behavior. It’s much more effective to create new circuits. Thirdly, negative interactions can send someone, and the entire work group or team, into distress and anxiety; which leads to bad morale and long-term performance issues.

I propose a different approach, one that will bring insight and learning.  Begin by taking time to plan for the conversation. Do what you need to do to calm your emotional response by taking a walk or whatever you do to release negative energy. Remind yourself that your goal is to focus on the work behavior in the project or incident, not on the individual. Then schedule a time to talk one-on-one when you both have energy and privacy for the conversation.

Begin by acknowledging that the conversation might be uncomfortable and that you appreciate the person’s willingness to take time out to talk. Be clear that your goal isn’t to dissect what happened, analyze the problem, or put their job in jeopardy. State that your goal is to help them do their best, learn, and build their potential. Follow with a good opening question that asks them to reflect, “I’m interested in how you think you did in this situation. On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate work?” You can follow with some other questions and statements, making certain to keep the conversation at the learning level – not in the details. Remember, avoid the impulse to suggest a solution, give advice, or tell your own story. Your role is to lead the person to their own “aha” moment of insight.

Here are some example questions that can help guide the conversation:

  • What did you learn?
  • What did you observe about how you worked? About how you worked with the team?
  • Tell me more about that . . .
  • What insights are coming into your mind?
  • What resources, knowledge, or skills would have been helpful in this situation?

Conclude by asking how you can support them in developing the new behaviors or skills they’ve identified. Plan to meet regularly to discuss how they are going about carrying out their intentions to create new behaviors or learn new skills.

By allowing the person to reflect, gain insight, and learn, this process has the potential to develop increased trust, better communication, and foster change. It still may not be comfortable for everyone, but the outcomes will be significantly different from the old “calling on the carpet for discipline” process.

I encourage my readers to try this feedback process with your team members or family members or whatever organization you find yourself in. Reflect on how it makes a difference for you and the people around you.

Read about giving feedback when things are going well.

Feedback: When things are going well

Giving feedback when things are going well is just as important as when they’re not so well. According to neuroscientists, brain circuits that wire together, fire together. So, if leaders want to reinforce behavior, it is logical to give positive feedback when things are going well.

I’ve found that it can be just as uncomfortable to give positive feedback as negative feedback. People will say, “Oh, thanks, but it’s just my job.” Or, “It was nothing … really.” The first key to positive feedback is to reflect on some questions for yourself, before you begin talking:

  • What do I want to communicate or what behavior do I want to reinforce?
  • What specifically was well done?
  • What challenges had to be overcome?
  • What was the impact on the organization? On the team?
  • What made a difference?
  • What words will best communicate this to the person?

In order to reduce the tendency of people to dismiss feedback, begin by setting the stage with a short statement, “I know you often brush off appreciation, but I’d like to share some feedback.” Or, if it’s a bit longer, “I have some feedback for you regarding the project. It’s all good. Is this a convenient time to talk for a few minutes?” Then give the feedback that you’ve planned. After you’ve shared your positive feedback, consider asking for reflection that reinforces critical thinking, learning, and builds self-awareness:

  • Tell me 2 or 3 things that you observed which worked well.
  • Tell me something you learned about yourself when you worked on this project.
  • What did you experience as the biggest obstacles or challenges to making this project as success?
  • What internal and/or external resources were used in this project?
  • What new skills or knowledge did you need to complete this project?

Finally, ask how you can support further development in this way of working or behavior.

All of this put together will not only reinforce what was learned, but can promote reflection, insight, and growth.

I encourage my readers to try planning, delivering, and engaging in learning as you deliver positive feedback with your team members or family members or whatever organization you find yourself in. Reflect on how it makes a difference for you and for the people around you.

Are performance reviews dead?

In the past two weeks, I’ve noticed that the performance review is back in the news. Tara Parker-Pope in the New York Times, Samuel Culbert in the Wall Street Journal, and Bob Sutton of Stanford have all asked whether it’s time for organizations to eliminate performance reviews. Each has interesting opinions on the topic; and, I will add my own reflections here.

I have been on both the receiving and delivering end of performance reviews. Neither is easy. As an employee, I worked hard to meet organization goals and was worried that I might not be aware of all of the unspoken expectations of my superiors. As a team leader, I tried to be fair as well as given meaningful feedback and encouragement. Feedback conversations are difficult. I will use the next posts to discuss ways to give helpful feedback for performance that is excellent, below expectations, and poor.

Good leaders give feedback that is designed to influence others in the direction of a shared vision and common goals. Good feedback is purposeful and intentional. At its best, it engages people not only creating better performance, but in learning and growth. And, feedback that creates learning and growth doesn’t happen in the dreaded annual performance review, but consistently as events unfold.

<June 7, 2010>
I am updating this with links to my other posts about providing effective performance feedback:

Feedback: When things are going well
Feedback: When things are less than 100%
Feedback: When performance is poor

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