Feedback – the ‘gift’
Have you heard of feedback as a gift? The thinking, as described by Carole Robin, director of Leadership Fellows at Stanford Graduate School of Business, is that when you ask for feedback, and you get it, that presents a chance for you to learn and improve. It is better to have feedback, even if the feedback is hard to take, than to have no feedback at all. No feedback at all means a possible opportunity for change and growth is missed. Hence, in viewing feedback as a gift, we are schooled in both accepting it and even seeking it out. That assists our professional growth. But what happens when the feedback we get is really negative?
New research from Harvard University, as reported in this FastCompany.com article suggests that negative feedback can have important implications for both employees and managers. A 2016 working paper from Harvard found that giving negative feedback can actually make people avoid you. Let’s take a closer look.
Having a difficult conversation in a way that is helpful can be hard, says researcher Gino. If you perceive the feedback as threatening to your self-image, you are more likely to begin actively avoiding the person who dished out the feedback. Avoiding people at work is not productive. And often it is this ‘hard’ or challenging feedback that provides the best opportunity for development, the feedback that you most don’t want to hear. Paradoxically, those who do tend to ask for feedback, says the study, are typically already performing well. They are eager to develop and tend to be more confident at asking for an assessment of themselves. To improve performance, we need to ‘give up the ghosting’. That means being aware of whom we are avoiding, and making a focused effort to get the information we need.
As managers, we can also help with this process. Think about the impact your feedback has on others. There is no point in focusing so much on positive attributes that nothing else sinks in. That approach could actually be harmful for professional development. But do consider changing the conversation so that the person has a chance to realistically reflect, through asking them questions. You can take opportunities to add to what they say, to strengths as well as possible ‘blindspots’. This type of approach can shape a less threatening context and, we hope, lead to less avoidance.
Awareness leads to reflection, which leads to development and better performance. Let’s get better at these conversations, for everyone’s benefit.
“The practice of telling people about their “blind spots” is probably the biggest gift a leader can give.”
If you would like tips on giving feedback with the mental model of it being a gift, click here.