At some point in their career every people manager has learned the importance of giving and receiving feedback. It’s a critical skill for anyone needing to engage with and influence another to do a job for them.
A coaching client once said “The boss wants me to speak up more in meetings. I don’t know how to do that; which is stressing me out”. The pressure he felt to ‘speak his mind’ increased the anxiety my client felt. As a result, he spoke less because his focus was on how much he was supposed to say.
The problem here was twofold: how the feedback was given and how it was received. His manager focused on the behaviour they wanted him to change. Whereas, the individual concerned was consumed by the worry of having to say more.
Broadly speaking, managers find it easier to offer feedback. Occasionally this is for a job well done. More often than not it is used to point out the need for a course correction. In truth, the ability to receive feedback – and make it meaningful – is an art-form.
This is harder to do because it’s human nature to project our deficiencies onto others. We deflect the blame and we look for a scapegoat when things go awry. And yet we tend to fully own all of our successes. Also, we’re more comfortable taking credit for our accomplishments.
That explains why managers find it so much easier to spot what people are doing wrong. And why they have no problem putting people straight. In addition, it explains why we find constructive criticism hard to take.
In reality, we should all listen out for constructive criticism; and seize the opportunity to improve or change unhelpful behaviour. Putting yourself into a continuous state of learning will provide you with a wealth of feedback opportunities.
Have you ever seen a suggested area of development written down (usually on an appraisal form) and dismissed it? You think “That’s not me!” The aforementioned client was angered to read ‘assertiveness skills training’ written in his performance review.
He recognised that something needed to change. And it wasn’t to become more assertive. What he learned, through coaching was that he had plenty of opinions; on all the important topics discussed in their business meetings. In fact, the ability to voice his opinions wasn’t the issue either. In practice, he was choosing not to share his ideas because he didn’t see the value. Why impart what he already knew; especially when that knowledge related mostly to his role. That is until he realised his peers needed him to become more collaborative and a team player.