Because giving and receiving feedback is a skill everyone can stand to get better at, we recently went through a company-wide training. If words like "feedback" and "company-wide training" make you groan--stop yourself (at least from doing it out loud).
In our sessions, we had a lot of solid conversations and learned a lot of great tips (like how to give peer feedback and how to take constructive criticism like a champ). But one of the most interesting discussions I had was with a group of managers who shared that they sometimes don't offer constructive criticism, even though they know they should.
What's stopping them? I reached out to get answers and heard the following:
- I don't want to demotivate them because they're so overworked already.
- I'm not sure if the feedback I want to give them is valid or if it's just a personal problem.
- I'm so mentally drained every day that I don't have the time or energy to give deep constructive and corrective feedback.
- I gave them feedback once already, and they're still doing the thing I gave them feedback on. I feel like if they didn't listen the first time, they won't listen the second.
- I'm concerned that it'll become a point of fixation for the receiver, who's otherwise doing good work.
- I don't think they really want constructive feedback.
- I'm not sure what I want, but it's not that, and I know that's not specific enough feedback
- This person used to be my peer and now they're my direct report--I don't know how to change the dynamic!
While those may all sound familiar, the most common response was "I don't want to upset my direct report and make things awkward." This is 100% understandable. But it's also the wrong way to manage. People can't improve if they don't know where to start.
So, in an effort to help you push through that "icky" feeling, I laid out the three excuses you probably make to avoid giving feedback--and provided a mantra to help you get over each one.
1. "I Don't Want to Feel Uncomfortable"
From a purely selfish perspective, discomfort's something most people try to avoid. As a manager, it can be really hard to lean into it willingly, even though you're capable of it. You worry about how to say the thing you need to say or feel nervous about what they're going to say in return.
Good news! In the vast majority of cases, you'll only experience a momentary discomfort while having the feedback conversation, and then it'll pass. In fact, the anticipation of doing it is often worse than the actual conversation, because we hype this up in our minds. Instead of trying to avoid being uncomfortable, acknowledge the feeling and accept it.
Your New Mantra
"This is going to be a little uncomfortable--and that's normal. By facing this, I'm being a better manager and growing my direct report while also growing myself."
Still holding back? Try scheduling coffee outside the office to have the conversation; ask them to bring feedback they have for you as well. That way you're locked into sharing, and can focus on the relief you'll feel when it's over.
The upside is that the more you give constructive feedback and develop a healthy relationship with your team, the less this discomfort will phase you. You'll realize it's like when you can feel the burn at the gym. You know you're doing good work because you're stretching yourself past your comfort zone.
2. "I Don't Want to Make Them Feel Bad"
This is the flipside of number one and it's very common in highly empathetic managers. While it's great to be a highly empathetic manager (yes, yes, take a moment to pat yourself on the back), know that this excuse typically masquerades as a benevolent intention. Keeping someone from feeling bad is a good thing, right?
In this case, you're making a choice for your employee; you're trading possible discomfort or negative emotions--which you can't even be sure they'll feel--for a chance to get information that could make them better at their job.
Hold back concerns long enough and it could lead to that same person whose feelings you were protecting not getting a promotion, or even losing their job. Taken to that extreme, it's easy to see how backwards this excuse is.
Your New Mantra
"I want the best for my team. Caring about someone doesn't mean sparing their feelings, it means being supportive and honest so they can grow."
If this resonates for you, I recommend tying your feedback to goals and aspirations you know your employee cares about. By reminding people of what they want to achieve, they're more likely to be receptive to the things they don't want to do.
Here's an example, "John, I know you want to become a manager and are already thinking about ways in which you can develop those skills. Being a manager requires great time management, which is something I've observed has been inconsistent recently in your work. For example, last week, you didn't get any of your projects in on time." By giving that upfront context, you're showing that you care about helping John achieve his goals.
Finally, I'll add that it's not your job to keep your team from feeling any negative emotions ever. Your job is to grow your employees, help them achieve higher performance for your team and the company, and work with them to help reach their goals.
3. "I'm Scared This Will Impact Our Relationship"
From "I want to be liked and fear somewhat that my feedback will compromise that" to "We work together so closely and so frequently that I'll make an extra effort to keep the relationship positive," this one pops up a lot. Having a great relationship with your team is a very good thing to aspire to, but that doesn't mean always keeping things light.
Just think of the last romantic relationship you had in which you didn't speak up when things bugged you in order to keep things positive. It likely resulted in one or both of you not getting what you needed.
Your New Mantra
"A healthy relationship is one that has open communication, not hidden frustrations. Giving constructive feedback will deepen and strengthen our relationship and getting through challenging things together bring people closer."
Giving constructive feedback will indeed impact your relationship. But that's not a bad thing. Delivered with compassion and sincerity, these conversations impact your relationship for the better. Yes, things may feel awkward and uncomfortable during your meeting, and maybe even for the rest of the day, if not longer.
That's OK, give your employee a chance to process the information in their own way. As you follow up, you'll build a deeper relationship by showing them support in making a change that enhances their performance and gives them a leg up in their career.
There are many reasons managers convince themselves that today isn't a good day to give feedback, but to be a great manager, it's critical to push through those excuses. Take the time to talk thoughtfully and honestly with your employees. By making feedback a habit, your team's performance will increase and you'll find that yours has too.