When we talk of feedback, most of the time, what we’re really talking about is our ability to deal with constructive criticism. No one has an issue taking a compliment but nearly all of us find it challenging to hear something negative about our personality, work style or behaviour.
It starts with truth.
Is feedback not working for you? Understand that our solutions lie not in the quality of answers but in the quality of questions we ask. Let’s examine some examples.
Asking a close-ended question with no consideration or empathy gives the impression that you do not care about your workers’ well-being nor current workloads. Even if the question was not designed to be insensitive, an external party could view it as a “no-excuses” obligation to say – “yes”, or a simple “easy-way-out” – “no”.
Leaders can instead ask an open-ended question with the simple addition of “How” in front of their prior question, opening the door for innovative answers and initiative. It also opens up avenues to be empathetic, in terms of catering to how employers can provide the environment or means to allow workers to take on more responsibility. Perhaps through more L&D events? A robust incentive program? This question invites such responses.
It starts with the truth, a recognition of what we see in front of us and a call for us to be honest about how this may make us feel about the people we’re managing and circumstances we find ourselves in. It calls for humanity, yes, humanity.
The thing about corporate life is that it puts a layer between you and your people. We call on this when we need help and when we’re in a mess. “Am sorry about this, my hands are tied. I wish I could do more.” “I’d really like to help you but my boss says this is how it has to be.”
When it comes to helping a colleague in need, too often we are jaded by the selfish demands placed on ourselves regarding our own responsibilities. Hence, we resort to putting up excuses instead of being honest with our colleagues.
What are we really protecting?
We hold on to this protective layer because it helps us out of tough situations. We’re busy protecting ourselves. But if we want feedback to work, we not only have to listen, we have to take action.
We have to show our people that we’re serious about what we want to discover and then remedy. When we show this to them, not through our words but in our behaviour, then we show our people that we mean what we say.
It is easy enough to see things from our point of view – it is the only view we know and are comfortable with, that we believe is the right view. It takes a big pause for us to step outside ourselves to look beyond at this wide, wide world and consider an alternative to what we’ve always seen and understood. So, “what’s not working?” is less about you see as the way things are and how things need to go and far more about what others see and make sense of things.
You owe a duty.
As an organisation, it is your duty, your responsibility to gather and provide feedback to your people. As an organisation, you should regard as serious, this opportunity to grow your people, to inspire them, to bring out the best in them and to lead.
Gather as much feedback on how you can help your employees grow, then deliver actionable behaviour to cater to those needs and wants.
As much as there are things you are expecting your people to provide you in terms of experience and expertise, they are also looking to you for guidance, hope and faith in carrying out their duties. And more than anything else, remember that they give you the best hours of their days and best years of their lives in the fulfilment of their obligations.
That is a lot.
Allow the space for providing and receiving feedback to be one that is less chastisement and more of support. Ask questions about what’s working so you know where you need to reinforce certain actions. Ask questions about what’s not working so you know what needs to be fixed. Ask questions about what’s challenging or frustrating them so you can see what support you can provide. Explore a variety of channels, both formal and informal, to collect and collate feedback.
Ask great questions for great feedback.
Marcel Schwantes, in his Inc article, Here’s how good managers give bad employees feedback, shares that good managers analyse the problem first in order to understand all perspectives. He shared four questions crucial to helping a manager and setting the right expectations and accountability measures with both parties :
- Does the employee understand what the problem is?
- Does the employee really understand that expected level of performance?
- Does the employee fully understand what will happen if performance standards are not met?
- Have you, as the manager, gotten all the facts? Who, what, where, when, why, and how?
Learn to read between the lines.
You’ve got to treat people the way you want to be treated too. Stay aware – learn how to open your eyes to the truth because there is no one version of the truth. We all bring different experiences and insights to our situations and no two situations are alike.
If you’re facing difficulty, you’ll want a good manager who can spot it early, who will come forward to talk about it. You’ll want a manager who is sensitive enough to know how, when and where to bring it up.
Ask the right questions. Be the support your team needs. Learn to read what your colleagues are telling you.
And you’ll want them to be more of a coach about it – asking probing questions, allowing you to come to the solutions yourself rather than being prescriptive and judgemental. Yet, on top of all of these things, you need to remember to stay compliant and stay legal. Do what you need to do and do it right.