The quality of your feedback has the power to make or break results in your organization, strengthen or dissolve connections, build or break trust, and elicit creativity or carefulness. What's the quality of your feedback?

I find feedback to be one of the most important leadership skills people can work with, but it's also one of the most intimidating; people fear it, avoid it, sugarcoat it, and "feedback sandwich" it, leaving the receiver with diluted feedback, hurt feelings, and lost opportunities that do no one any good.

But we need to grow. In my experience, people are starving for solid, helpful, productive feedback. Making it personal, doing it on the fly, having a negative presence, not paying attention to the receiver's state, and not making it useful are some of the most common hurdles I see people trip up on. These issues are totally surmountable. When addressed with intention and presence, good feedback is one of the greatest gifts you can give someone, and one of the best ways to unlock greater creativity in your organization.

Here are the seven things you may be doing that are wrecking your feedback, and seven tweaks to make it rock instead.

  1. You fear giving feedback, and it shows. Your feedback is laced with the energy of "careful" and "tentativeness." To make it easier on your nerves, you might even deliver the "feedback sandwich." ("You're awesome. You suck. Wow, you're amazing.") Stop doing this. Check in. Is it clean? Is it truly in service of? Have you "done your homework" before giving it? If your feedback is clean, in service of, and well thought out, it's a gift. Give generously.
  2. You don't want to hurt their feelings or break their "trust." So don't. If your intention and presence are aligned, and the feedback is in service of this human being, you're more likely to build trust equity with them than to hurt their feelings. Why? You were willing to take a risk and tell them something that may have been hard to say. Hearing feedback can make people feel vulnerable, so be with them in their vulnerability, let it be OK, and serve.
  3. You're not prepared for it. While sometimes half-baked, on-the-fly feedback can be valuable and a great framework for healthy collaboration, when it comes to big feedback, reviews, or any difficult conversation, preparation is essential. You have a huge opportunity to create impact here. This feedback could change the course of this person's career--it could be the most important thing they've ever heard. That's worth preparing for, right?
  4. It's personal and/or outdated. That thing that he did or said or messed up that ticked you off a year ago? Sorry, you lost your window. Make feedback timely, make it in service of the person's growth, and beware personal gripes or hurt feeling camouflaged as professional feedback.
  5. You haven't created "sacred space." You give your feedback "on the run," quick, in passing, without an intentional "container" to deliver it in. The impact? It's messy, not connected, and the person doesn't feel honored. If you want your feedback to land, make sure the space is right. You're giving someone a gift that will serve them, but it may also hit some tender spots. Set it up right. Do it privately and without interruption, be mentally present for it, watch your body language, intend well, listen, and be with this human being who trusts you enough to show you their underbelly.
  6. You leave them hanging, giving them nowhere to go with it. You drop the feedback, "Hey, this didn't work"...and then stop there. Great. Now they're curled up in the fetal position, knowing they missed the mark and without direction on what to do to make it better. Instead, offer them a next step to take and co-design the plan. "Hey, this didn't work [be specific], and here's what I think could make it better. How does that feel? Let's explore."
  7. Your presence sucks, leaving them feeling irrelevant, judged, or simply like an idiot. Presence has big impact in feedback (even bigger than how perfectly crafted your feedback is). If your feedback is laced with contempt, irritation, apathy, or the energy of a "to-do" list, people will feel it. And they'll likely thank you for it by shutting down, rejecting it, locking up their creativity, and telling everyone how much the process sucked. Instead, be conscious of your intention and presence walking in that door. Consider the impact you want to have on them, how you want them to feel, and lean in.

Adopt one, adopt all, use your leadership super powers for good feedback as well--and get feedback on your feedback. Ready? Go.

Published on: Feb 2, 2015