No matter where you sit in the corporate hierarchy, there is one experience that is universal: Feedback. Feedback is critical as it provides valuable insights, uncovers blind spots, and helps professionals improve their skills and performance.
And while everyone has been (or still is) on the receiving end of feedback, you may also be responsible for providing feedback to team members or colleagues.
In both cases, the way you deliver feedback or receive it can have major consequences on your career path, and the way you see yourself within an organization.
I work with a client who was responsible for coaching a few of his team members as they were all getting ready to speak in front of a large group. As this client was coaching his team, he was focused on what I would consider insignificant details—things like word choice—which I saw as trying to have these leaders emulate exactly how he would speak and present, versus giving them feedback in order to improve their personal style of speaking and presenting.
As a result, these leaders were getting distracted by the feedback and many lost what I call their “true north”: their sense of what would feel natural and authentic to them and their gut feel to make decisions on the fly. For many, this feedback had truly rattled their confidence.
It’s instances like these when it’s critical to consider the feedback you’re giving, how you’re giving it, and how that feedback is going to benefit the recipient.
Here are a few things I’ve learned over the years that can help ensure that you’re giving (and receiving feedback) effectively:
1. Recognize (and push) the good and bad in each authentic person.
In my experience, one of the fastest ways to erode an employee’s self-confidence is to focus (consistently) on areas for improvement—especially when you are coaching them to “do it like I do it.” In these cases, the feedback can become overwhelming, and spark a classic case of imposter syndrome. (“See! I knew I wasn’t cut out for this.”) Instead of seeing specific action items or takeaways, the shortcomings cloud overall performance, which can lead to a feeling of hopelessness.
I’ve found leaders who practice compassion and celebrate an employee’s natural strengths, while also sharing constructive criticism, to be the most successful in building high-performing groups. The goal is to build each employee’s confidence in the areas in which they’re succeeding, while also allowing them to truly focus on what they need to do to improve.
2. Foster a culture of creativity.
Another scenario in which feedback can become a setback, is when it discourages creative thinking or risk-taking. I’ve seen this happen time and time again. Excessive feedback, particularly if it’s overly critical, can limit employees’ willingness to think outside the box and explore innovative ideas, for fear of receiving negative feedback.
One of the easiest ways to fight this setback is to foster a culture that celebrates creativity and encourages risk-taking.
3. Push for independent thinking.
How many times have you sat in a room with a bunch of “yes-men”? There’s a good chance they were once on the receiving end of negative feedback. It’s a byproduct that we don’t often consider, but criticism (constructive or otherwise) can push us to conform to others’ expectations and thought processes, stifling confidence, individuality and authenticity.
By celebrating each employee’s unique strengths and managing feedback to ensure that it’s not blanketed across all team members, leaders can promote independent thinking and support diverse perspectives (which is critical to an organization’s success and growth!).
4. Take your emotions out of it.
One of the biggest setbacks when it comes to feedback is its potential emotional impact. Receiving any type of criticism or negative feedback can affect a person’s self-esteem, especially when it’s delivered in a harsh or insensitive way. I’ve seen it trigger feelings of inadequacy, defensiveness, or even demotivate employees, leading to a decline in overall performance.
When receiving feedback, I’ve found the best way to combat this response is to try and cultivate emotional resilience. Take a step back and reflect on the feedback you’ve received, separating it from your value as an employee and your sense of self-worth. I’d encourage employees to seek support from trusted colleagues or mentors who can offer guidance and provide a fresh perspective.
When providing feedback, it’s important to make sure that you’re having these difficult conversations in the right environment. Don’t add feedback to an already tense situation, when there is a looming deadline or the team is feeling stressed or overwhelmed. Wait until there is a lull in workload, and take the time needed to deliver your feedback calmly and cooly.
5. Focus on the future state, not just the current state.
Though I’ve seen all types of feedback delivered in all types of ways, there is one thing that’s consistent: Feedback drives career growth.
As humans, our instinct is often to resist or ignore criticism, as we find comfort in our established routines and approaches, even when the criticism is for our own professional development. I’ve seen this type of resistance lead to stagnation and inhibit growth potential.
On the other hand, I’ve seen employees adopt a growth mindset, which leads to skill and performance enhancement. When focused on the future state, you’re more open to feedback, even if it challenges your current practices. You’re open to new perspectives and ideas.
When providing feedback, focusing on the future state means giving feedback that’s focused on where you want performance or output to go. This tends not to have the same negative impact on an employee’s self-confidence, instead guiding them in the direction you’d like them to go. This helps the recipient focus on the direction, not the critique.
How do you manage feedback in the workplace? Have you ever felt it hindered you more than it helped you? Join me on LinkedIn and let’s continue the conversation.