Few activities are more important in the business world than the giving and receiving of feedback. In most cases, it's only through input from others that we can improve our own performance.
Unfortunately, feedback can be a minefield for managers and employees alike. It's all too easy to give feedback in a way that creates resistance and resentment. Ill-timed or ill-phrased feedback can even ruin a previously good working relationship.
The key to giving (and receiving) feedback effectively is first understanding your own feedback "style" and then adapting it to the feedback "style" of the other people around you, according to Dr. Joseph R. Weintraub, professor of management and organizational behavior at Wellesley, Mass.-based Babson College.
Some years ago, Weintraub's research identified the four following basic personality types, each of which has a characteristic way of giving feedback:
People with the "Dominance" personality type tend to be results-oriented and more concerned with the bottom line than with people's feelings. Aggressive in meetings, they tend to think of conversation as form of doing battle. When giving feedback, they tend to be direct and quick, impatient of explanations and excuses. Because they have strong egos, they take criticism without feeling bruised. They prefer to receive feedback the way that they give it: clear and specific. They want people to get to the point and then move on.
People with the "Influencing" personality type tend to be people-oriented. They're outgoing, with lots of energy, the life of the party. They tend to use their personalities to get things done. They're often quite emotional, a characteristic which expresses itself in their facial expressions and body language. When giving feedback, they tend to be indirect. In trying to please, they may find it difficult to offer real criticism and may "soften the blow" so much that it feels like a pat on the back. They hate receiving negative feedback in public. When being criticized, they need a supportive environment. They like to be asked what they think about the situation.
People who are "Steady" tend to be patient and unemotional. They fit in anywhere. When giving feedback, they don't put much emotion into it. They're committed to their team and believe that good feedback includes both pluses and minuses for any given behavior. They prefer feedback to be non-threatening. They neither like, nor respect, people who need to control others. They don't do well with a lot of data that demands major change. They need a lot of assurance and support that things are going to be okay. They aren't risk takers and want to make sure that they're being heard. They respond well to questions that begin with "How do you think that we can..."
People with "Perfectionist" personality type tend to be conscientious and detail-oriented. Such people tend to persuade through logic. They like explaining things, sometimes ad nauseam. They're very well organized and present feedback in a workmanlike manner. For example: "On march 13th on 3pm, you said the following..." If your organization has a manual that explains how to give good feedback, the "Perfectionist" won't just read it, but quote it word for word. In receiving feedback, they don't handle ambiguity very well. They expect people to prepare in advance and be ready with the details. If that's not the case, the feedback is simply rejected.
How to Assess Your Feedback Style
As I understand it, Weintraub uses sophisticated survey instruments when working with corporations, but when I interviewed him a while back, he helped me to devise a simple test to help you identify their basic feedback style.
Answer the following list of eight questions according to this sliding scale:
- Agree completely
- Agree somewhat
- Disagree somewhat
- Disagree completely
- Q1. Do you frequently want to change the status quo? [ ]
- Q2. Are you willing to say anything to anybody in front of anyone? [ ]
- Q3. Is interacting with people the favorite part of your job? [ ]
- Q4. Do you consider yourself charming and charismatic? [ ]
- Q5. Do people describe you as calm, patient and unemotional? [ ]
- Q6. Do you believe that keeping peace among team members is critical to success? [ ]
- Q7. Do you get ALL the facts before you make a decision? [ ]
- Q8. Does it bother you that you're taking a quiz without seeing statistical proofs? [ ]
- Put the total of questions 1 and 2 here: [ ] Dominance
- Put the total of questions 3 and 4 here: [ ] Influencing
- Put the total of questions 5 and 6 here: [ ] Steady
- Put the total of questions 7 and 8 here: [ ] Perfectionist
The higher the score for each style category, the more your feedback style tends to correspond to that general personality type. It should be emphasized, however, that no single feedback style is inherently better than any other and, of course, most people are a combination of more than one style.
Some combinations are particularly well suited for certain jobs. Dr. Weintraub, for example, has discovered that successful project leaders in innovative companies often have high scores in both "Dominance" and "Influencing."
On the other hand, when asked, most people prefer to work for a "Steady." Such a boss may not be very exciting, but you know you'll always be treated fairly, even if you're called onto the carpet.
According to Weintraub, when getting feedback, the trick is to consider the source of the feedback and listen to the real message without being distracted by the style. Similarly, when giving feedback, your challenge is to present it, not how you'd like to receive it, but in a way that the listener can most easily hear what you have to say.
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