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Overcome Three Inherent Challenges with Giving Feedback

Many say that feedback can be a gift. But what if that feedback feels like a white elephant gift? You know the party gift exchange I’m talking about where there’s always a chance you’re left with a present that’s not quite what you hoped for and often misses the mark. If your feedback is of the thick-skinned variety, then you may want to read on. In the past, I’ve talked about the importance of sharing feedback in a way that is honest yet conveys trust and belonging so the receiver has reason to feel resilient about their potential to improve.

Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall’s article earlier this year takes a closer look at the art of sharing constructive criticism. According to their findings, there are three inherent challenges with sharing feedback:

1) We overestimate our reliability as evaluators of others’ performance.

2) Criticism inhibits the brain’s ability to learn.

3) Excellence is different for every person, difficult to measure in advance, and most importantly, isn’t the opposite of failure.

The solution to overcoming these barriers is that “Managers need to help their team members see what’s working, stopping them with a ‘Yes! That!’ and sharing their experience of what the person did well,” say Buckingham and Goodall.

By specifically recognizing what’s working for others, we minimize the unreliability of trying to correct bad performance, which often leads to criticism. Complimenting what we want to see more of also takes the one-size-fits-all approach out of codifying achievement. After all, no two professionals are alike—“Excellence is idiosyncratic,” say the article’s coauthors.

For example, let’s look at two CEOs. One is Rose Marcario at Patagonia and the other is Dara Khosrowshahi at Uber. Marcario grew up among Italian-Americans and earned degrees in business and finance, while Khosrowshahi was raised in an Iranian-American family and studied electrical engineering. Marcario has tripled Patagonia’s profits since she stepped up in place of the founder, while Khosrowshahi is turning around one of the most toxic cultures in recent corporate history. Each has life experiences and a personal brand that inform their unique professional journeys.

Neither Patagonia nor the Uber board of directors could have defined the path to success in each case, but they could say, “Yes, more of that kind of leadership behavior, please!” Reinforcing positive behavior is akin to elite athletes who use visualization before they perform. Competitors who engage in this habit typically imagine all the steps involved in the successful completion of a goal. By reviewing their past behaviors that led to a win, the athlete is nurturing a repeat performance.

Leaders who replay what they appreciate about a team member’s actions are essentially helping that employee engage in visualization—further cementing that if they repeat the complimented behavior, more success is possible.

American author and humorist, Mark Twain, said, “I can live on a good compliment two weeks with nothing else to eat.” The next time you have an opportunity to give someone feedback, don’t let your input make them feel as if they’re picking their ego off the floor. Instead, give them a genuine gift of thoughtful feedback that specifically breaks down what’s working about their individual approach and tell them how that made you feel. Your feedback will not only be memorable, but it will inspire many more repeat performances.

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