Last night, I sang in a holiday concert with my local community chorus. I love singing, especially Christmas music, and especially with other people who love it, too. We’re not professional or anything, but we have a great time and typically, that’s all that matters.
After the concert, one of the audience members came up to tell me he thought we did great and he liked my solos (I had solos. I’ve got a music background, but that’s not super relevant to this post). I thanked him and said I hope he enjoyed the concert. He then proceeded to tell me that I should really pin my hair back because it’s distracting. And then walked off.
This incident wasn’t horrible – I think the guy thought he was giving helpful advice. And he really did enjoy the concert. It just sounded too much like other “feedback” I’ve gotten in my career, especially as a speaker. I’ve yet to speak anywhere (at a conference, as a facilitator internally, etc.) where appearance wasn’t brought up in the feedback. That could be shoes, clothes, whatever. And then there are the comments of “I didn’t learn anything new.”
I bring this up not to rant, nor do I begrudge those folks their right to share their thoughts. After all, I ask for that feedback, right? I bring it up because leaders and employees talk about feedback all the time but I don’t think it’s working.
Employees say they want feedback, then get surly when they get the truth.
Leaders say they give feedback, yet so often it’s either too vague or too “nice” to make a difference.
Feedback doesn’t work when it’s done with the wrong intentions. Employees who ask for feedback only if it’s positive are just looking for an ego stroke. Leaders who give vague feedback are just trying to check a box without having to have the difficult conversations. Even worse are the leaders who give only negative (please don’t try to call it “constructive” all the time) feedback because they feel threatened by a strong employee.
Here are some things to keep in mind when you’re thinking about asking for and/or giving feedback:
- Be specific about what you’re looking for: a blanket request for feedback results in all manner of crazy responses. Instead, give the responders some context. “I’m trying to improve my eye contact in meetings. How did I do?” Or “In my last project, I felt like I struggled a bit with organization. How might I get better at that?”
- Make the feedback actionable by the recipient: When you’re giving feedback to someone, make sure it’s something they can control. Telling someone the lights were bad in the ballroom doesn’t help. They don’t do the lighting. Nor is it helpful to give feedback about the way the finance department handled the hand-off to them in their project. Unless they run the finance department, they can’t really do anything about that. Instead, you can give them suggestions on how to better prepare the materials so that finance is ready to accept the handoff.
- Find the trends in the feedback: We’re human beings – we like to think we’re AMAZING. And perfect. And special unicorns. So when we get feedback that stings, we look for reasons to reject it. We think that person doesn’t like us, or they don’t know us, or they don’t know what they’re talking about. But when 5 people tell you similar things about your performance or behavior, you might want to take it to heart a bit. Look for the repeated themes and take the feedback with an open mind.
- Check yo-self: Why do you want to give someone feedback? Is their behavior a career-limiting issue? Or are they just doing something differently from how YOU would do it? Really think about the intent of your feedback. It should be about helping the other person reach their full potential – not to make you look and/or feel better.
When you can ask for and receive feedback without ulterior motive, and with a pure heart, you will have reach feedback nirvana. Until then, just keep an eye on your motivation.
You may be surprised by how well the feedback works.