Why It’s Worth Learning How to Give Feedback

by Lee, David Wednesday, August 26, 2009
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I just got back from Austin, Texas where I was doing a seminar on how to give constructive feedback with the Texas Municipal Retirement System’s management team. Before we discussed the “how you do it”, I asked people to think of all the answers they could come up with to this question:

“Why bother to learn how to give constructive feedback?”

I asked them to focus on this important question first because knowing how to give constructive feedback so it actually IS constructive takes A LOT of practice. I know. I teach it and I still work really hard figuring out the best way to approach a constructive feedback situation.

So, the only way I can expect anybody (including you) to put in the hard work required to learn this skill is if they believe it is truly worth all the effort.

When you read the list we came up with, please ask yourself:

- “Is this important to me?”

- “Would I like this?”

- “Would this make my life easier?”

The “Why Bother to Learn How to Give Constructive Feedback” List

1. If you’re a manager, your value to your employer is DIRECTLY related to your ability to bring out the best in your team. Your ability to give feedback in a way that people can hear and use plays a central role in your capacity to optimize employee performance. Therefore, the better you are at this skill, the more valuable you are to your employer…or any employer.

2. If negative feedback is given in a clumsy, vague, or heavy handed way, the “take away message” for the receiver becomes how bad they feel, not the content of your feedback. Therefore, the more refined your feedback skills, the greater the chance that people will actually hear and absorb your message.

3. The better you are at giving feedback, the more people actually want to hear what you have to say, which makes it easier for you to give feedback. With this greater comfort and ease, you:

- Don’t have all the stress and angst when it givin, or contemplating giving, negative feedback.

- Are more likely to speak up and address issues, rather than The avoid them until the problem magnifies to nightmarish proportions and/or you’ve become so angry, you use a “take no prisoners” approach.

4. When you’re able to deliver tough news in a kind, respectful way, you build your Goodwill Bank Account with others. The result? Because they appreciate the respect and compassion you showed them, in the future, they are likely to:

- Bring up issues to you in a similar respectful manner.

- Give you the benefit of the doubt if you ever say something that could be taken the wrong way.

- Respond in a non-defensive way the next time you need to give them feedback or bring up a difficult issue.

5. You open the doors to two-way communication. When you model a comfortable, direct, respectful way of giving feedback, you encourage others to do the same. This is especially important for managers who want their direct reports to speak openly with them. If you would like your team to feel comfortable giving you constructive feedback, model it for them. By doing this, you minimize the chances that small employee relations issues become major engagement-destroying wounds.

6. Because you’re more likely to give feedback regularly when you’re good at it, your employees are more likely to feel like you notice and care about them and their work. The result? Because they feel you care about them, they care about you. Because they care about you, they want to do a great job to please you. So you get more motivated, productive, and engaged workers when you give regular feedback in a skilled manner.

7. One of the most important jobs of a manager is to set clear expectations and help their team members succeed at meeting those expectations, not to mention succeed at their jobs as a whole. Clear, actionable feedback makes this possible. Thus, an increased ability to give clear, usable feedback, translates into an increased ability to help your direct reports succeed.

8. Today’s Gen Y or Millennial worker wants managers who aren’t just bosses, but who act as coaches and mentors. They want managers who help teach them the ropes and help them grow professionally. Because ongoing feedback is a key component of effective coaching and mentoring, managers skilled in this area do a better job retaining and engaging the new generation of worker.

9. Your ability to give effective feedback affects your credibility. When managers don’t do their due diligence by getting all the facts and thinking through the issue, but instead “shoot from the hip”, they lose credibility. It’s hard to respect or value someone’s feedback if it’s clear they didn’t do their homework or applied faulty logic. Thus, the cost of sloppy, poorly thought out—and therefore inaccurate—feedback is diminished respect and credibility.

10. One of the greatest gifts you can give another person is the gift of feedback. Few people are willing to suck it up and deal with the discomfort most of us feel when giving negative feedback or confronting another’s behavior. Thus, most of us miss out on information about ourselves that could make us a better person and more successful in our careers. When you’re good at giving feedback, your willingness to give it and others willingness to hear it provides you with the opportunity to make a significant difference in others’ lives. Not that you would become a self-appointed life coach for every colleague or friend, but rather, if appropriate, you would not shrink from giving someone feedback that could help them.

11. Would you agree that one of the biggest sources of inefficiency and ineffectiveness in organizations is poor interdepartmental customer service? Think of how often in your career you’ve felt stymied by someone from another department who didn’t keep their commitments, continued to drop the ball on projects that affected you, or acted in some other ineffective, inconsiderate, or irresponsible way.

Think of how often you’ve bitten your tongue because you were afraid confronting them would only make things worse. Think of how much time and energy was wasted finding ways to work around these people, or how their behavior compromised your effectiveness. Knowing how to address a peer who is underperforming in a way that fosters cooperation can make a huge difference in not only your effectiveness, but also your stress level. It also enables you to be a “force for good” in your organization, helping others to examine and upgrade the quality of their work and their behavior.

12. Companies with strong cultures, like Southwest Airlines, Baptist Healthcare, and Ritz Carlton, have what I call a clear Behavioral Vision. A Behavioral Vision is a clear picture of “How we do things here.” It communicates and reinforces the core values of an organization’s culture. Where there’s a clear Behavioral Vision, people know how they can embody their organization’s core values in their day to day actions and interactions.

Organizations that value a strong, inspiring culture and the values it embodies, encourage employees to hold each other accountable for embodying these core values. Giving a peer feedback takes courage and skill. As mentioned above, the more skilled you are at giving feedback, the more likely you are to do it. Thus, the better you become at giving feedback, the greater your ability to encourage, inspire, and help others in your organization embody the core values and behavioral norms that lead to organizational excellence.

So Now What?

Now that you’ve read—and hopefully reflected on—the list and what those effects would mean in your life, please revisit the earlier questions, now applied to the whole list:

- “Are these benefits important to me?”

- “Would I like them?”

- “Would they make my life easier?”

Hopefully, you can see the HUGE difference being skilled in this area makes in both your work and personal life. I hope that you use this recognition to commit to learning more about—and practicing—the skill of giving constructive feedback.