I read recently that most of us would like more feedback. According to Korn Ferry, we do not believe we get enough feedback to support improvement in our job performance and our development. There is dissatisfaction with performance review processes which over-formalise the feedback process, in some cases reducing it to a tick box exercise.
So how can we get the feedback we want and need? And how can we deliver the feedback our direct reports and colleagues want and need?
We have an unconscious mind which seeks to protect us, to organise all the information bombarding us through all our senses so we do not go crazy. The mind filters the information so we are not even aware of what we do not know or that there is anything else to know. What has this to do with feedback, you ask? Well, we need to consider our Mindset when giving and receiving feedback.
There is lots of talk about mindsets at the moment, mainly about having development mindsets. I would suggest that this relates to feedback as well. What is our mindset at the moment we are planning to deliver feedback to someone? This will have a bearing on the how we deliver it. What is our mindset when we consider feedback in general? Many managers are nervous and anxious about giving feedback. If you wake up and are stressed and in a rush, then the feedback meeting will have some of that sense in it. How likely is it that we will feel rushed and stressed to complete lots of tasks at Performance Review time? How many of you are looking forward to a good calm exploratory discussion with your direct report, where you will share the facts and discuss situations and impacts?
What is the mindset of the receiver? Do we know? What are they anticipating they will hear? We hear about the “no surprises” at year end and yet they still seem to happen.
We need an open mindset – when we are feeling calm and able to be open to others' views, is the time to give feedback. We need to use our data, questions and listening. We need our receivers to be in the same mindset so they can be open to the conversation and information. Under threat our brain narrows down its perspectives. So, if the person fears the feedback they are more likely to unconsciously feel threatened and therefore get defensive and not want to understand it.
We talk about being objective and yet how can it be when the data collected by your brain has been filtered through your own experiences. Our brain is good at looking for what it expects to see and hear and very good at eliminating other so called irrelevant information. It seems pointless to look for what you did not know was missing.
The receiver of feedback is also going through the same mental game. So, we can understand how it’s easy to give a message which we think is clear and objective and yet it lands in a way we had not anticipated or does not land at all. I have heard managers complain that they have given the feedback multiple times and the receiver just does not hear it or do anything about it. Then when talking to the individual concerned they deny they were ever told such a thing. The data needs to be as specific and objective as possible – as if you were in a court of law or justifying results in a scientific paper.
There are various methods suggested for giving quality feedback. These include describing the situation, providing the data, the impact, consequences and results. I would suggest that whatever method you use the key is to use lots of questions and listening. This is not so you question cleverly so the person gives themselves the feedback you wanted them to say. This is questioning to really understand their view of the world and the data you have. Then listen to their answers for what is different and surprising. Explore those avenues and you will have a richer view and more likely get to a better result in working with the individual.
If the purpose of the feedback is to help people perform better and to grow and develop, then the only way to do that is to really communicate with them and to aim to get a better understanding of what constrains them. What is your intent in giving feedback – ah yes, start with your own mindset…