Who do you think has the hardest time with feedback? Is it the giver or the receiver?
In most leadership development programs the focus is on how the giver, the leader discusses feedback with the receiver, the employee.
The team leader comes into the meeting armed with a pre-thought-out performance review, feedback from others on the team, and the comforting fact that they are in charge.
NOT SO FAST!
What about the individual being reviewed?
Many who have been in our Total Leadership Connections program over the years have all said a variation of “I hate this situation. I feel like I’m back in school and being judged with not much chance to stand up for myself. I have a kinda, take the hits and get out fast attitude.”
WHY IS FEEDBACK SO NERVE WRACKING?
Do you hate to be judged? And more to the point, what happens to you when you know you will be judged?
SELF-DOUBT IS THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM.
This is when the idea of feedback becomes even more interesting.
The self-doubt goes both ways. It invades the emotions of the receiver, yes, we know that. However, did you know that the giver also often must reach for anti-acids before, during, or after a feedback session?
WHERE DID THE SELF-DOUBT START?
Here is a memory Janet shared in a leadership coaching session that gives a clue.
“When I was around 9 years old, we were doing multiplication tables at school. The teacher would say 9 times 7 and then randomly point to one of us kids. I hated the finger-pointing and the need to perform like a circus animal. You know, she would snap her fingers and we had to perform to her expectations. If I got the answer wrong, she would keep moving on. Yet, the kids would snicker out of their own discomfort. I began to shut down emotionally and that has stayed with me through the years. So, when it’s time for feedback, I just want to puke!”
Fast forward 30 years and there is Janet, filled with anxiety and self-doubt when her boss tells her what she did or did not do correctly.
AND SELF-DOUBT IS A TWO-WAY STREET
I was also coaching her boss who shared this with me about feedback sessions.
“Twice a year at feedback time I sleep little and eat lots. Eating is my go-to reaction when I’m stressed. I think if I had more direct reports I’d end up on TV’s “The Biggest Loser” because of excessive weight. I don’t like to give negative feedback and yet, to be honest in my job, I have to say things that will upset others. Yet, I can’t tell this to anyone. They’d shrug and say, tough, that’s part of being a leader.”
HOW FEEDBACK CAN WORK CONSTRUCTIVELY?
Both the sender and the receiver can become aware that there is a real, live human being sitting on the other side of the table. Yes, even when one has, it seems, more power than the other.
That is NOT the point. The point is that each side needs to be sensitive to the self-doubt that is sitting in the room, like a great big yet very quiet elephant.
Acknowledge that the meeting is stressful and anxiety-producing. No, that won’t make the nervousness go away. It will, however, shrink the elephant to a smaller size and make the situation more honest.
USE THESE 4 MAJOR WAYS TO SET UP A FEEDBACK MEETING
There are ways to make difficult conversations more productive.
Here are 4 major aspects of feedback that need to be in any discussion:
- Make sure you are both clear about what is to be discussed.
- Keep it simple and stay on the subject (no ‘furthermore’ or ‘in addition to’).
- Be respectful (no unnecessary jokes, leave that for having a snack together).
- Agree to the next steps together (the key here is to make the decisions about the next steps with each other not with one being dictatorial and the other submissive).
This is the first step in a communication model I have used to help thousands of high achieving leaders and those aspiring to leadership positions find the common ground for effective dialogue.
THE BEST WAY FORWARD
You don’t have to let the self-doubt voice in your head become a tsunami of negative thoughts saying over and over that you are going to mess up or disappoint.
My team and I have a short, simple process for better feedback and better communication.