5 Truths Relative to Feedback

Recently, I have engaged in several 360 narrative feedback processes for executives as the initial foundation for our ongoing leadership coaching engagements. The feedback process is never easy. Yet, what I know for sure, is that good leaders want to grow AND part of the growth process is taking a hard look in the mirror regarding ‘what works’ and ‘what needs work’.

There is an art to giving and getting feedback. There needs to be a healthy balance of courageous, compassionate, constructive feedback AND honest praise and encouragement. One of my mentors, Noel Tichy, strongly believes that feedback is a gift we give one another. He challenges leaders to be strong and direct with one another, and would encourage them by saying, “If you don’t care about someone – then let them continue to be less than they can be. If you care about them – then help them learn and grow by giving honest feedback.” How true this is.

What I have observed when giving feedback and facilitating feedback sessions is multi-faceted. A few truths have been present in every successful session in which I have participated:

  1. Showing empathy and compassion when giving feedback without offering a challenge for improvement gets us nowhere. We have to know what is being perceived by others AND what needs to be changed. Perception is reality – so we must call it out – honestly and directly – with kindness – and also set forth the challenge for change.
  2. If we give constructive feedback WITHOUT kindness and compassion, we demoralize the employee. I have been the victim of this once in my career – and it did not motivate me. In fact, it left me disheartened and defeated. Giving direct feedback is a leadership fundamental, yet we need to do so in a way that builds a relationship and not tears it apart. The key is sincerity, care for the individual, and kindness in the manner in which it is being delivered.
  3. We need to be specific in the feedback we offer and what improvement is desired. If we want someone to improve, we need to be specific in what ‘improvement’ looks like. Clearly defining the ‘metric for success’ and what the desired change looks like – helps the recipient know what is expected of them. Without that clarity, we don’t know what the ‘end game’ is – and thus, on what areas to focus.
  4. We need to acknowledge change when we see it. There is nothing more powerful and empowering than to recognize an individual as they embrace the change we wish to see. It encourages. It motivates. And it also holds them accountable for ongoing improvement and growth.
  5. Finally, we need to recognize when we give (and get) feedback, there will always be stages we go through as we process the feedback. Much like Elisabeth Kubler Ross’s five stages of grief, there are stages we go through when we are given feedback. We may initially be shocked which can quickly move to anger. We may tend to rationalize the feedback or even discredit the person who has given the feedback. Yet, ideally, over time, strong leaders and those committed to learning, will acknowledge the feedback, realize that a person’s perception is indeed their reality, and then embrace that we can learn and grow as a person and a professional from all types of feedback.

Giving feedback can be hard and uncomfortable. Yet, what I know for sure, is that ALL of us have the opportunity to grow through self-awareness and learning how we may be coming across to others. Giving and getting feedback is an art; and a GIFT when shared compassionately, courageously, and with purity of intention.