A client once told me I was a terrible writer. In fact, he had hired me to write for him, and I’d been doing so successfully for three years. Yet, his focus was on a specific instance of writing he disagreed with rather than on the big picture of my overall performance. His feedback became a blanket statement about my worth, rather than an instructive critique on a piece that clearly didn’t resonate.
In HBR’s article “The Feedback Fallacy,” Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall discuss how unreliable humans are at rating others. We are fallible, full of preconceived notions, experiences that color biases, and, to top it off, each of us has a different definition of what “good” is.
Don’t Make it Personal
While the relationship with my client ended shortly after this abrupt critique, I reflected on what happened. The personal nature of the statement didn’t reflect what I believed were the values of the business I represented. This is a common trap with feedback. Often, feedback is delivered with bias from personal preference of the giver, rather than with consideration for the goals of the organization.
Be strategic about developing goals, and take the emotion out of the feedback. Focus instead on what works, and figure out a collaborative way to cultivate that strength moving forward.
Use Your Words
Criticism is uncomfortable, even in the best of times. Hearing I was a terrible writer caused me to shut down, silencing any rebuttal or conversation around how I could improve. Not only that, but I had a bruised ego and a lack of direction.
Instead, had the client communicated clearly and concisely about what I had written, and asked me to be more conscious of x, y, and z, the interaction would have ended differently. By linking feedback to a tangible outcome, I would have had relevant information to serve the needs of my client more effectively. He, too, would have seen reward by investing in my skills and the continued improvement of his business.
Timing is Everything
When to deliver feedback is as important as the content. In my scenario, the client decided to let me know how he felt about my work in front of another colleague, rather than in his office. It was clear my client hadn’t prepared in advance for this moment, and his off-the-cuff remark effectively ended our working relationship.
Sharing is Caring
Delivering feedback is a struggle for the best of us. Rather than giving information to help empower performance, leaders are often guilty of demotivating people with basic reprimands or critiques on single-episode events.
Feedback should be an ongoing tool to provide insight into how a person’s habits and behaviors can improve to make them more successful. Creating feedback requires careful thought and insightful instruction to be truly useful. Be clear, direct, and deliver it with empathy. When you get feedback right, it shows you care.
Musings, a bit of sarcasm, and things I find interesting.