There is something that each and every one of us who form part of a team can do more of that will directly improve the performance of the team.
Give more feedback to our team mates.
Feedback is an essential part of achieving high performance. Without it we can’t possibly recognise that there is more we can achieve, or that we have reached our limits.
What is feedback?
Feedback is information that is received (from any source) that allows us to recognise and evaluate performance and / or progress. It is a mechanism to help us position ourselves in relation to expectations or an agreed outcome – or simply to track our progress.
This is a critical element of clarity – feedback is information. Nothing more, nothing less. It is how we respond to the information that imbues it with emotion.
When you drive your car and you look at the speedometer you are getting feedback – the dial is telling you the speed you are travelling. You then decide if this is acceptable or appropriate for the road conditions.
When you boil a kettle the steam rising from the spout and the fact that the power clicks off are both feedback to tell you that the water has reached its pre-set temperature.
When colleague tells you that are confused about something you explained to them it is feedback that tells you that what you described was not clear enough.
None of these examples are criticising you personally or questioning your ability – they are all examples of information being given to you to help you understand what is happening around you.
So why do find giving and receiving feedback so difficult?
Feedback triggers an emotional response – especially when it is directed at us by another person.
This trigger is typically caused by one of 3 emotional fears we have:
Fear 1: Truth
The first emotional fear is that of being found out. We get triggered by the feedback because it tells us something that we know to be at least partly true. Something we have tried to hide, or are not comfortable with about ourselves. The feedback exposes the truth and means we have to face into its reality.
Fear 2: Relationship
Fear 2 is the relationship fear – that the feedback comes from someone and we react because the feedback exposes the negatives in the relationship we have with the giver. Whether we agree with the feedback not, when it is given by someone who we have a challenging relationship with our emotional fear is driven by the fact that they have in some way “judged” us and that we have exposed a weakness to someone we would rather not have.
Fear 3: Identity Fear
The final fear is linked to our own sense of self worth and confidence. The feedback triggers us because it challenges a self made perception of our capability, skill, standing or popularity Thus we are forced to confront a view of ourselves that may be different from the one narrative that is playing in our head. This can make us extremely uncomfortable as it challenges our very perception of ourselves.
Why is giving feedback so hard?
In all of my years working with leaders at every level one paradox has remained consistent. Every leader has said that they want and need more feedback to be their best (even though most agree that receiving it can be uncomfortable) and yet, these same leaders express that they simply dislike giving feedback (especially feedback that is corrective or developmental).
Why when it benefits and is so important do we find it so hard to give?
The main reason is a fear that giving feedback will in some way “harm” the receiver and in so doing damage the relationship or lead to a potential conflict (which makes many extremely uncomfortable). We don’t want to hurt their feelings. We don’t want them to think badly about us.
It is a fundamental fear of what the other person MIGHT think – and this pervasive fear is robbing teams and relationships of essential information needed to help them improve and strengthen.
Rather than giving the feedback and then managing any potential reaction we stew over it, we expect the worst, we fear that it will lead to conflict and then decide it is much safer and more comfortable to just not say anything.
We need to reframe feedback
Brene Brown says in Dare to Lead that giving people critical feedback when their performance is not to the required standard is actually kindness rather than cruel or challenging. She argues it is far worse for someone to be able to correct their actions and not receive this critical insight, and allow them to keep failing than it is to tell them and make them aware.
Imagine you had a mark on your forehead. Would you rather the first person you meet say to you “you have something on your head” so you can fix it? Or would you prefer to walk round with it on your head with everyone avoiding saying anything for fear of embarrassing you or making you feel stupid? I would rather be told thanks.
Feedback is helpful. Feedback is essential to improve in every single walk of life. Feedback is the catalyst for growth and improvement.
Feedback is the greatest gift we can give to our team-mates.
I was listening to a podcast at the weekend and Shaun Edwards, Rugby coach with France, had a great way of reframing the critical feedback he was giving his players. He told them that if he wasn’t giving them feedback then it would mean that they were not good enough players, and would probably find themselves leaving the team. By showing that him taking the effort to give this feedback meant he thought highly enough of them and believed in the fact they could be better. He turned the whole culture of feedback around and had players wanting to receive critical feedback.
3 simple tips for giving great feedback
Do it often – remove the stigma by making it a standard part of every day conversations. Dn’t let it build into a big set-piece discussion – make it normal.
Give people advice not feedback – focus on how they could do better next time rather than dissecting what they did previously
Tell people that you want them to succeed and that you care about them. Explain why the feedback matters to you and want you want them to do with it so that they understand your intentions.