I just got back from Austin, Texas, where I was doing a seminar on how to give constructive feedback. 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 key question first because the ability to give feedback that 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?
Why Bother to Learn How to Give Constructive Feedback?
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, understand, 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.
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 the feedback. So 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. When you become more comfortable giving feedback you:
—Experience much less stress and anxiety when giving, or contemplating giving, negative feedback.
—Are more likely to speak up and address issues, rather than then avoid them until the problem grows to nightmarish proportions and/or you’ve become so angry, you adopt 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 people appreciate the respect and compassion you showed them, in the future, they are likely to:
—Approach you in a similarly respectful manner when they have issues to discuss.
—Give you the benefit of the doubt if you ever say something that could be taken the wrong way.
—Respond in a nondefensive way the next time you 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. You’ll minimize the chances that small employee relations issues grow into 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 that you notice and care about them and their work. And because they feel you care about them, they will care about you and they will 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. Today’s Gen Y worker wants managers who aren’t just bosses, but who act as coaches and mentors. They want managers who 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 newest generation of workers.
8. Your ability to give effective feedback boosts 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 the manager didn’t do his homework or applied faulty logic. Thus, the cost of sloppy, poorly thought out—and therefore inaccurate—feedback is diminished respect and credibility.
9. One of the biggest sources of inefficiency and ineffectiveness in organizations is poor interdepartmental customer service. Think of how often you’ve felt stymied by someone from another department who didn’t keep his 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 that a confrontation would only make things worse and of how much time and energy you’ve wasted finding ways to work around these people. Knowing how to address a peer who is underperforming in a way that fosters cooperation enables you to be a “force for good” in your organization, helping others to examine and upgrade the quality of their work and effectiveness.
10. Companies with strong cultures, like Southwest Airlines, Baptist Healthcare, and Ritz Carlton, have what I call a “clear behavioral vision”—a clear picture of “how we do things here.” This vision 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 embrace and communicate a strong, inspiring culture encourage employees to hold each other accountable for embodying those core values.
So, Now What?
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 people’s lives. Few people are willing to step 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.
Giving feedback requires courage and skill. As mentioned above, the more skilled you become at giving constructive feedback, the more likely you are to do it. Now that you’ve read—and hopefully reflected on—the many benefits you’ll reap if you hone your feedback skills, please ask yourself:
—Are these benefits important to me?
—Would I like them?
—Would they make my life easier?
I hope you’ll answer each question with a resounding “yes” and that you use this recognition to commit to learning more about—and practicing—the skill of giving constructive feedback.