No News Is Bad News. Why We Avoid Feedback.

skyeteam leadership development

When you hear the word feedback, what do you think of? Typically, it refers to comments made about the performance of someone. “Feed-forward” is the work accomplished, and feed-back is an opinion on that work.

What’s another way to think of feedback? Couldn’t it be turned around? Isn’t it possible that those you supervise feed back to you? Commenting on your comments would be feedback. Asking for your help would qualify, too. That means that feedback is nothing more than part of a conversation. It’s a response to something another does or says.

When we look at it this way, then the activity of providing feedback seems less ominous; and it should, because there’s nothing to be afraid of. We make it harder than it needs to be in most cases by treating it as something that it isn’t in first place.

What occurs in a conversation? Is it not communication? And wouldn’t you agree that good communication is essential to the health of any organization, whether a company, non-profit, or even a family?

It’s well known that when communication slows or stops that misunderstandings start and if left to foment, can lead to breaches in relationships.

There are two particular opportunities for this to occur in an organization. The first is between the company and the customer, and the second between you and those you supervise.

Customers

It is unusual when customers compliment us personally; even rarer for someone to ask to speak to you in order to praise someone that you supervise. The majority of the time, customer feedback is in the form of a complaint – something doesn’t work or hasn’t arrived at all. Sometimes it’s because the wrong thing was shipped, staff were rude, or the customer was having a bad day and you were an easy target. Most of the time, you do what you can to placate those who should have had better experiences with your organization.

Subordinates

Why do we avoid giving feedback to subordinates? Let’s look at the easy answer first. You may avoid giving feedback for good work. You reason that there’s no point in telling someone that they’ve done a good job because that’s what they’re paid to do. And if they know that they’ve excelled, you’re saying so won’t make any difference.

If you’re like most managers, however, then there’s another, bigger reason. Principally, it’s because giving feedback is seen as a negative experience. It’s a lose-lose proposition from which no one feels good or seems to benefit.

If their employees are doing poor work, then it means confronting them with that fact. However uncomfortable you may feel praising someone, it is as nothing compared to how it will make you feel when you criticize him or her, especially if it’s serious.

This is one reason why performance appraisals aren’t fun. People don’t like to tell others that their work is substandard, and those who struggling don’t want to hear it. In fact, both parties may take steps to avoid the other so that the opportunities to discuss the issue are limited.

In some cases, delivering negative feedback is likely to cause more harm than good, and everyone knows it, and so the giving of it is delayed for as long as possible. Maybe the person receiving it won’t improve, but instead will make matters worse. So you refrain from saying anything in order to preserve what you have.

Let’s turn this around.

Let’s suppose for a moment that feedback could be used in a positive way; to get more of what you want. Would it be worthwhile?

What would positive feedback look like when things were going well? What affect do you think it might have on your employees?

What happens on a football team? The quarterback throws a touchdown, or the tight end catches a pass that wins the game. Does the team or the coach ignore it because both did what they were paid to do? How do you think those people would feel if they did?

Maybe you don’t feel that what people do in your organization is the equivalent of a touchdown. Is that perhaps because the opportunities don’t exist? Are you failing to play your part so that they can play theirs?

What about all those small plays that gradually move the team down the field? Are those things incidental; of no consequence? How do you think the team would play if the fans sat in the bleachers eating their burgers and never cheered, because the team was doing what they paid to come see them do?

What might be the consequences of failing to give negative feedback? For one thing, it’s unlikely that the performance in question would improve. Although some people know they need to improve, many don’t. They think that everything is fine; and if you don’t tell them something else, then they’ll continue as before.

Some know they need to improve, but don’t know what to do differently. That means that they are relying on your feedback to help them.

If you fail to give negative feedback, then the morale in your organization could be affected, too. It usually is. Think about the negativity that comes from someone who complains all the time. If you fail to do something about it, then it will sow doubts in the minds of others you supervise as to whether you could be trusted to do what is necessary to rectify a bad situation.

Solution

How do you overcome your reluctance to give feedback? It’s by treating it as part of an ongoing conversation. If feedback is seen as nothing more a part of everyday communication, then it won’t be misinterpreted as being something special. In other words, undue emphasis will not be placed upon it

If it’s natural, regular, and informal, then it will rarely be thought of as anything more than that; and that’s a good thing.

You have to keep this in mind. Communication is the means that you use to keep people informed, make improvements, provide encouragement, and 101 other things that you may not have thought of.

It begins with you. Make sure that it doesn’t stop there.