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Feedback (and Other Dirty Words)
Why We Fear It, How to Fix It
- Read in 13 minutes
- Audio & text available
- Contains 8 key ideas
Feedback (and Other Dirty Words) (2019) is a smart and practical guide to something many of us fear: seeking, giving and receiving feedback. It explains how we can avoid the negative psychological reactions many of us have to feedback, and offers practical tips for how we can all build a positive and helpful feedback culture.
Key idea 1 of 8
Feedback’s brand has taken a hit, but it’s an invaluable source of improvement and growth.
You stroll into work, ready to face the day. Just as you sit down, your boss pops her head out her office door: “I’ve got some feedback for you. Please come into my office.”
For lots of us, just hearing this is enough to set our hearts racing. Our palms sweat and our legs feel numb as we cross the floor to the boss’s office. Thoughts race through the mind: What have I done? Did I screw something up?
Of course, it’s likely that the feedback is innocuous or even positive. So why do we have such an anxious, immediate and forceful reaction to the offer of it?
Feedback has been consistently mishandled. Bad leaders use it to punish or manipulate staff, using brutal frankness with no regard for employee morale. Even good bosses hoard feedback, positive and negative, and then dump it all at once on unsuspecting employees at annual performance reviews.
And it’s not just givers at fault. There’s probably been a time in your life when you’ve gotten defensive in response to feedback, argued the facts, or fought back with a tirade about someone else’s failings.
But this is unfortunate, because feedback, effectively delivered, drives meaningful improvements in business performance.
A 2018 study explored the impact of multiple techniques used in 57 companies in the US to improve performance management. It found the biggest driver of measurable improvement in performance was building a Performance Feedback Culture, in which managers are trained in how to give feedback and incentivized to do so. Unsurprisingly, managers in such cultures provide regular and attentive feedback. The financial gains of the one-third of companies that were best at giving feedback were double those of the one-third that was worst for feedback. Furthermore, the study found that good feedback was the management practice most strongly correlated with employee motivation.
Still need convincing of feedback’s value? Consider that, despite feedback’s bad rep, the most common complaint that the authors hear in their lives as management consultants is that people don’t get enough of it. A 2018 global study of employee engagement led by Officevibe found that a full 62 percent of workers wanted more feedback, and 83 percent appreciated it, whether it was positive or negative.
People want good feedback, and developing a good feedback culture makes sense for any organization. But before we can build such a culture, we first need to understand why we are currently getting things wrong.