Photo by dcJohn on Flickr Creative Commons

Feedback takes a bad rap in business. Yet all teams and true professionals or artists use feedback to master their craft. Used well, it can give the star a real competitive advantage. Are you using feedback from the people who observe your performance?

I’m going to to do a short series of posts on this and related conversations between two people for whom performance outcomes are tied or related to each other. Boss and employee. Team member to team member. Client and service provider. Etc.

It strikes me that feedback training may be the longest running training need next to time management. Even though organizations train managers in different models over different years, the best managers often wait too  long to give feedback and few ask for feedback regularly. We go through the training thinking we “know all of this,” yet go unconscious when we have important feedback to give and indignant when someone stops our play to offer an observation or insight.

While everyone knows that feedback must be integrated into the day-to-day discourse to be truly effective, most organizations are way behind in creating a real environment of giving and receiving feedback.  Culture-building at the big organization level is difficult, taking true commitment and demonstration from the top leadership. But at the team or smaller unit level, creating that culture takes the commitment of one person—possibly you.

Can you imagine the pitching coach thinking, “no, not sure I want to share what I see…” Sure, maybe he chooses his timing, but he doesn’t sit in the dugout passively. Or, consider the catcher not interrupting the play to give an encouraging word and ideas to help the pitcher turn around? Pitcher and catcher are partners in the play.

Either we’re not committed enough to the person for whom we have observations or we don’t think it’s our job… or what is it for you?

Here are some of my observations about why this is such a marginalized conversation:

  • We avoid giving it when it might count the most.We wait until we are losing, or worse yet, until the game is over.
  • We are sloppy in our use of words. Words create resistance or listening—but, we’re not ever in control of that result.
  • We pay the least attention to praise which is both reinforcing for people and satisfying or motivating.
  • We worry about the emotional reception of the other—and we should—we don’t want to hurt their play. But, don’t let it stop you.
  • We unconsciously hope we will not draw criticism. Maybe we’ll learn something we should be doing differently.
  • Basically, in receiving, we avoid any evidence that we might not be perfect. How insane is that?

How has this become such a sticky dynamic to solve? I think, essentially, we have been conditioned by our family, community, schooling and society to wince, cringe or rage when someone asserts that we need to be or do differently.

Imagine if we had been conditioned to engage in a discourse that exhanges information and ideas. Imagine if both parties were focused on a collective set of facts, any and all shades of standards and expectations. Would the receiver need to accept or defend, no. He or she would ask questions, offer ideas, confirm the expectations and importance. The giver would be open to new information, ask questions, consider how to use this persons talents best, set them up for success…

We assume pitchers want to do their best, and it’s a really hard job. But they are not perfect; they have slumps; and they can almost always add to or perfect their collection or pitches.

I’ll leave you with the phrase my wonderful colleague Anne Saunier and I used as a mantra when helping clients develop a culture of feedback.

“Feedback is a loving act.”

In order to make feedback feel “loving” (OK, you might not use that word, but you get the point.), you have to genuinely care about the performance of the player. The next time you avoid asking for or giving a valuable observation or insight, ask yourself whether you care enough about improving the play to engage in that conversation. If you’re in the middle of a tough game yourself, consider whether you care enough about your own performance to ask for information. In what way would that feedback give you a competitive advantage?

How does this strike you on this Monday Morning?