Liane Davey just posted a terrific article about giving feedback to professional colleagues. Don’t do it, she says, until you’re ready.
For example, if you’re giving feedback so as to punish or humiliate someone, even just a little, you’re not ready. You’re ready only when you can honestly say that your motive is to make the other person more successful.
Liane gives other tips for knowing when you’re ready to give feedback. (Read her article — it’s well worth your time.) Beyond those tips, I think there’s one more: you’re not ready to give feedback until your colleague is ready to receive it.
People are usually receptive when — calmly and in private — you offer to give them feedback or advice. But not always. Sometimes, either verbally or nonverbally, they’ll say Not now. This is often true when the colleague is a peer; it can be especially true when the colleague is your boss.
No matter how helpful your feedback would be, and no matter how pure your motivation, don’t bother giving feedback if the other person isn’t ready to receive it.
Pondering this, I confronted a couple of questions:
- How ready am I to receive feedback?
- Do I ever tell my colleagues, verbally or nonverbally, that I’m not ready?
I like to keep an even keel at work, not appearing stressed even when the work is hard and the deadlines are closing in. I like to be seen as a steady, dependable teammate.
But how does that look to others? When my head is down and I’m focused on my work in the face of that looming deadline, is there a big “do not disturb” sign on my forehead?
When I try to look cool and unflappable, do I actually look unapproachable? Do I send the silent message that I don’t need help from anyone?
Do I ask for help when I should? Do I take advantage of opportunities to ask for feedback? (I’m pretty sure I fall short on both counts.)
While I plan to take to heart Liane’s advice about giving feedback, I’m also going to focus on making sure that I’m ready to receive feedback — and making sure that I’m communicating my readiness to those around me.
In what ways do you let colleagues — managers, subordinates, and peers — know that you’re ready to receive feedback?
Sorry, Larry, I don’t buy this. It all sounds very nice, of course. And yes, one should strive to always be open to feedback. But you can’t always wait until both you and the person you are giving feedback to are in the perfect frame of mind. If the person’s behavior is a threat to property, security, life, limb, or reputation, the time to give feedback in right now. If the person is not producing the value they were hired to produce, the time to give feedback is also right now, since the alternative is firing them. Sometimes feedback is unwelcome but necessary. Sometimes feedback has to kick down the doors of indifference and complacency. The time to give feedback is when it is needed. You can’t always wait until it is wanted.
Mark, thanks for sharing your thoughts. We need to make a distinction based on the other person’s role in relation to mine. When someone is subordinate to me, you’re right: feedback is always warranted, and feedback is imperative when the person isn’t performing or when their behavior is a threat to property, life, limb, etc.
But when someone is my peer, or when they’re above me, and when there’s no clear threat, then I think the situation is as I described it.
Agreed. Where the feedback is a case of good but could be even better, these are excellent rules to follow, even when dealing with subordinate.
Mark you make a good point and I agree that feedback must be timely (as close to the behavior in question) for it to have an impact. Still I think a leader will be more effective when adhering to the spirit of what Larry is saying. In my experience a leader is well served by learning how to set the stage for feedback so that the direct report is able to hear it constructively. Often you can’t wait for the “perfect” time and still by setting a positive intent for the feedback AND focusing on what you’ve specifically observed rather than conclusions (which are usually based on some level of bias) you can be very effective. I always try to remember it is about influencing change not about being right.
Mark, you make an important point that feedback needs to be timely. While I don’t advocate waiting for the “perfect frame of mind,” I do implore people to wait until the heat of anger, frustration, annoyance has decreased so that the feedback doesn’t do more harm than good. It might not be welcomed, even then, but ensuring that you’re in the right mindset to deliver feedback increases the chances that the person will be ready to receive it.
I think we need perhaps to make a distinction between feedback and coaching. Feedback is the natural consequence of action. You perform an action. That action has results. Feedback is the reporting of those results to the person who performed the action. Without feedback, you don’t know if your action had the desired result or not. We can’t work effectively without feedback.
It is well established that the longer feedback takes, the more expensive it is to correct mistakes. If fact, it is often exponentially more expensive. Shortening feedback looks is one of the keys to lean and agile processes.
Sometimes feedback it built into a process. It comes as a natural and immediate result of the action. Sometimes a feedback loop has to be created. The failure to create effective and timely feedback loops it the cause of all kinds of inefficiency, loss, and danger. The first business of a manager should be to ensure that there are fast and effective feedback loops in place for everything their team does.
Good employees need feedback too, so that they can tell if their results are consistent or if their attempts to improve are making a difference.
An employee who is not willing to accept feedback is a danger to themselves and others. You cannot delay feedback on that account. Doing so is dangerous. You have to give them the feedback, and if they don’t accept the feedback, you have to give them feedback on that.
Coaching, on the other hand, is an approach to developing the skills and abilities of an individual. It is quite useless to attempt to coach someone who is not ready to be coached, and also quite useless to try to coach someone while you are angry.
Feedback can open up an employee to coaching. It can lead a good employee to ask for help further improving their performance. It can make a well intentioned but bad employee realized they need help. It can make a feckless employees realize they need to pull up their socks or get fired.
You don’t delay feedback until the coachable moment. You use feedback to create the coachable moment. But for coaching to work, both parties have to be well disposed towards it, just as your describe.
Larry, I like your reminder to stay open to feedback. Even when we’re not exactly ready for it, staying open gives us the best chance of benefiting from it—and handling it with respect and appreciation.
Hi Larry, I’m so glad you jumped on to add some new insight to the feedback conversation. Readiness of the recipient is an interesting point. Unfortunately for the person delivering the feedback, it’s a difficult thing to assess. I’m not a big fan of asking permission to give feedback–I guess because I’m with Mark on the importance and appropriateness of feedback in the workplace. If the receiver is really not ready to hear even well crafted feedback, I’d encourage him/her to speak up and ask that either to wait a brief period until he’s in a better headspace or to take the feedback but not respond until there’s been some time to let it sink in.
Liane, thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your insight. Like most things that are worthwhile, the feedback process takes effort and sensitivity on both ends.
Pingback: Designing for Feedback | Every Page is Page One