Please Don’t Give Me Feedback!

One of my workshop participants was recently telling the group about how much they were fearful of feedback from others and it got me to thinking about this whole 'all feedback is good feedback' cliche!

It's been annual appraisal time for a lot of organisations (don't get me started on that nonsense!) and feedback has probably been a major part of the process. Some of it will have been delivered and received well and some of it will have taken the person on the other end of it a few steps backwards.

A piece of CIPD research around managing performance concluded that it is people's reactions to feedback, and not the feedback itself, that determines how it affects performance. 'Do we accept the feedback and put in more effort or do we reject it, feel angry or disappointed and shift our attention away from our priorities?'

I revisited some research from Smither, London and Reilly which highlights that 360 feedback from multiple sources only leads to small improvements in performance. A lot of this comes down to how each individual is equipped to deal with the feedback, their temperament, emotional stability etc. A negative comment could be taken particularly badly by one person but be water off a duck's back to another.

So the one-size-fits-all approach to feedback just isn't going to work. We are always fond of a nicely packaged acronym in people management, you know the one that says just follow SMART objectives and everything will be ok or for feedback you have BOOST (how convenient that it is also an actual word too!). Nothing particularly wrong with the five words within each acronym: the 'S' in BOOST (Specific) for example is indeed helpful, particularly when it comes to talking about behaviour and being very tangible rather than throwing out sweeping statements or subjective buzzwords (like 'proactive', 'dynamic', 'collaborative' etc etc!). But each word within these acronyms requires lots of training, skill and practice - I have seen workshops that literally just say it on one slide, do a few minutes of practice and move on quickly. We need to do more around how to construct behavioural conversations or 'performance objectives' with unique, step-by-step, plain-English approaches the textbooks/Google don't cover: a deep and complex skill most managers particularly struggle with.

What we also need to be doing is checking in with people following performance/behavioural discussions to see how the feedback has been received - how could it have been framed differently, what would have made the individual more likely to take it on board etc so that the manager is understanding how to bespoke these conversations in the future with each of their people (or even better: ask before the initial conversation how people would like to receive feedback in the first place!).

In summary I think a lot of us have a tendency to run to the hills when someone says 'Can I just give you some feedback'....and with good cause I'd say in most cases!

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