Whenever I deliver Zoomly’s ‘How to give effective feedback’ bite-sized workshop, there’s some initial squirming from a number of the participants. Particularly the Brits: we seem to get tangled in skirting around the subject, dressing it up, putting a bow on it – and let’s not forget serving up s*%t sandwiches*. Some of us find the very idea of feedback uncomfortable. Some of us can assume that ‘feedback’ = bad news. Some of us fear we’ll stuff it up. I hear a whole heap of excuses to dodge feedback. Here are the excuses I hear most often – and my suggestions for what to instead.
1. “I’m too busy”
Yes, you’re busy. We all are. Whether we’re spending our precious time doing the most important things first, or getting lost in social media rabbit holes, spending too long on email, etc. etc. is quite another matter. We all need to focus on the priorities, and if you manage someone one of your priorities is to give them feedback on how they’re doing. Frequently. Feedback that may be positive or negative. Welcome to your job.
What to do instead: get the feedback habit by giving feedback little and often. Getting into this habit will ensure feedback doesn’t become A Big Deal. Make giving feedback part of how you work with people on a daily basis. That could be after a meeting, at the end of a project, when you’re reviewing some of their work, or simply when you’ve noticed.
2. “They’re overwhelmed”
Well, at least you’ve noticed – so that’s a start. When this excuse comes up in workshops, it’s often followed by “…and I don’t want to upset them.” This is a common situation for managers, and one that you need to grasp rather than duck.
What to do instead: If someone’s performance isn’t up to the mark, you need to have a conversation with them about it. You can share your observations, e.g. “I’ve noticed that you’re staying late to redo a lot of your work and I’m concerned about that. What help do you need?” This may become a coaching conversation to generate insights and ideas, or a more directive discussion to help set priorities and boundaries.
Feedback will actually help your overwhelmed colleague – yes, even if it’s negative – because at least your recipient will know that you have noticed and are concerned enough to have a chat with them about it.
If the feedback is positive, they really need to hear it. Which brings me to the next excuse…
3. “I don’t want to be seen as a creep”
When it comes to giving positive feedback – praise – this is where the Brits in the room can have an attack of #awks (in a participant’s words). Participants for whom English is a second or even third language smile widely at their cringing colleagues and wonder aloud what on earth is so hard about telling someone they’ve done well. Indeed. If your repertoire of praise is high-fiving someone, just saying “awesome!” or “smashed it!” from time to time, you need to raise your game.
What to do instead: be straightforward and specific. Stick to the facts. Ditch the adjectives and other vague language. Use action words – verbs – so your recipient knows what behaviour to do more of.
4. “I don’t want to ask for feedback”
Again, this might be because the excuse-maker could feel awkward or needy. You may even have a hunch that something’s not quite right about how you’re performing, but don’t want to be seen as pushy by asking for feedback.
What to do instead: choose your moment. See the example moments in point 1, and other opportunities could be when you’re travelling on business, or simply grabbing a coffee. The less you can make it seem A Big Deal, the more comfortable your feedback giver will be. Help them to help you by being specific about what you’d appreciate their feedback on, e.g. “how I spoke in that presentation”, “how I explained the technical spec”, “How I handled questions”.
*Here’s where I stand on s*%t sandwiches: there’s a whole chapter in The Feedback Book called ‘Don’t feed clever people stupid sandwiches’