“You made me cry!”

We all know – or should do – that feedback is a critical tool in our own self-development.  Let’s face it, if no-one tells us then we’ll continue to live in our own bubbles where we get participation certificates and judge our success by the number of social media likes.

Back in the real world, feedback remains a vital assessment tool, yet we continue to get it spectacularly wrong.  On both fronts.  On the delivery side, we either forget to praise or start to fall apart when delivering what we think will be perceived as negative feedback.  And, then comes our inability to receive feedback that might dent our frail egos. 

I’m going to share 2 examples of the most effective feedback I ever received.

And yes, both initially stung.  I’m human after all.  But the initial reaction isn’t important here, it’s what you do with the information.  If you’re someone who continues to hold a grudge against that person, then you’ll never learn from the experience.  Rather than getting annoyed at the person, or desperately trying to defend your position, why not take a different approach and ask for more clarity such as:

  • “Can you tell me about some of the incidents that made you feel that way?”
  • “What were my behaviors that led you to that conclusion?”
  • “Assuming my intention and information were correct, how else could I have handled the situation?”
  • “What other information would help clarify my statement?”

Obviously these questions would depend on the situation at hand, but the overall message is to separate the problem from the person.  Resist from judging a person because of their reaction, focus instead on what led them to that feeling.  With feedback, perception is key.  It sometimes doesn’t matter what you think, it’s what someone else thinks of your performance or behavior. 

Let’s look at both in a bit more detail.

1. “You Made Me Cry”

This came from a friend and one of the best employees I’ve had.  They were a direct report who quickly became a team leader and then manager.  The problem stemmed from the career progression a few of us had, which led to a corporate bottleneck where I had nowhere else to go at that time.  One option would be to step aside or seek a change of departments, but for a number of reasons this didn’t seem like an option at the time.  Yet, my hands were tied.  I thought I handled it ok at the time, but this feedback only came several years later.

After the initial sting and sadness that I’d contributed to that feeling, I started to analyze the feedback, and only then realized how badly I’d handled the situation.  At the time, I was more focused on my own unhappiness with the situation, without realizing that I would keep myself occupied by micro-managing the situation and interfering with my directs’ work.  Not great for anyone.  

Learning Points

  1. If you realize you’re in an ineffective situation, do something about it. Either adjust your own role, or those of the people affected.  Trying to be nice to everyone just doesn’t work in these scenarios.
  2. Sometimes corporate politics prevents you from taking control of a situation. If that’s the case, ensure there is open dialogue between all parties affected.
  3. Keep some focus on your own career trajectory and not just succession planning for those underneath you.

2. “That’s just your point of view. I don’t think I didn’t anything wrong.”

This came early in my management career and was the result of a performance appraisal.  For those of you who have had the pleasure of writing over 10 year-end appraisals at the same time, you might understand. 

Sometimes, feedback is hard to quantify, and you fall into the trap of making a judgment or sweeping statement on someone’s performance.  However, think about when it’s happened to you, and how annoyed you were.  So, why do we then end up doing the same?? 

Again, with reflection, I realized that I hadn’t provided specific examples of this behavior and hadn’t separated the problem from the person.  I like to think that the 100+ appraisals I wrote after that were much better, however I’m sure I still fell short on some occasions.

Learning Points

  1. When giving feedback, give specific examples of when it happened, the behavior you observed, and its impact.
  2. With the hopefully soon-to-be-obsolete annual appraisal process, by the time we get round to writing the review, we’ve often forgotten the details of something that happened in February that year. This results in our feedback skewed to the second half of the year.  I adapted to sending myself emails after an incident or 1:1 meeting, and saving into a folder named after each of my direct reports.
  3. The above relates to both positive and developmental feedback. Don’t forget to use both, and deliver it promptly. The year-end review should be just that; a review of feedback already delivered earlier in the year.

Feedback remains a vital developmental tool, and it’s everyone’s job to get better at delivering it.  If you get it wrong, admit it, learn from it, and get it right next time.  If in doubt, remember my just-created 3 Ps of feedback: deliver it Promptly, Precisely, and without Prejudice, and be Present (it’s a mindfulness thing!) to the issues around you.

Hopefully, with some of these tips, you can make feedback a regular, effective management tool, and not fall into some of the traps that I did. 

What was the best feedback that you ever received?  I’d love to hear in the comments below.

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