3 Ways to Give Feedback across Generations
One consistent aspect of my work with leaders is their struggle with multi-generational feedback. More tenured folks fear offending a perceived, more sensitive, younger generation. And the younger generation fears that a lack of experience renders their perspective invalid and unimportant to those with more years under their belt. Overall, this lack of two-way feedback leaves teams deficient in dialogue, missing opportunities and unable to reach high-performing levels.
Here is a scenario:
A younger engineer is happily thriving in her role. She has a leader whom she gets along with, who leaves her alone to complete her work. Overall, she has received little to no constructive or development feedback. She thinks she’s doing a great job. Then, she experiences a change in leaders, and in what feels like overnight, she feels like a failure. Her new manager has high expectations and shares them openly. Our young engineer is getting more feedback in a day than she was used to getting in a quarter. Because she went from zero feedback to constantly being reminded of all the areas she needs to improve on, she thinks she’s terrible at what she does.
Can you relate? Have you ever experienced getting zero feedback about your work and thinking that things were going well, only to have a change in leader completely throw you for a loop?
Now it could be that the previous leader did like what you were doing and didn’t see anything that needed to change, hence the lack of feedback.
However, more often than not, what I see and hear from my clients is twofold.
- Leaders aren’t stepping up into the emotionally uncomfortable work of providing feedback.
- And team members aren’t stepping into the emotionally uncomfortable conversation to ask for feedback about their performance.
Both parties avoid feeling the discomfort that comes with feedback conversations.
Without feedback, we rob our team members and ourselves of valuable perspectives and information that could lead to innovation, creativity and problem-solving breakthroughs. In short, we are choosing not to use one of the most powerful tools we have in our leadership toolbox for fear of a bit of discomfort. You know what they say — nothing grows in a comfort zone, so let’s get you out of your comfort zone and into your growth zone!
Here are three ways to support you in giving and receiving feedback in service of your highest growth and development.
1 – State Your Intent; Know Your Impact
Most people don’t come to work everyday to do a bad/incomplete job. They come with the intention of doing their best. Feedback is tough because the receiver of the feedback was giving their best effort and the giver of the feedback sees their best as less than adequate. Whenever you can state your intent for the conversation up-front. This might look like …
- You are a valuable team member and I wanted to talk to you about your last project as I think there are some areas I can better support you in.
- I am invested in your growth and long-term development here at our company. Would you be open to hearing about some ideas I have that might help you to be more effective?
One way to better understand what intent to state is to think of ways that the conversation you’re about to have might be misunderstood. How might the person on the receiving end of your conversation feel about the information you are going to share? Often as leaders we have very noble intent when sharing feedback AND have exactly the opposite impact during the conversation.
- to support
- to grow
- to develop
- to invest in / value
- unable to learn
- replaceable / under valued
How can we lower defensive reactions to feedback and get to meaningful dialogue?
GIVING FEEDBACK: State and clarify the positive intent up-front and coming back to it as often as needed during the conversation.
RECEIVING FEEDBACK: Ask why this feedback is important – what is the giver’s intent? What’s in it for you as the receiver of the feedback.
2 – Practice Giving and Receiving Feedback Regularly
Feedback is a skill. And just like any other skill you have, you’ll need to practice it regularly to get comfortable delivering and receiving feedback. Some of the ways you can ‘normalize’ and build a feedback culture are:
- have a standing agenda item on your weekly meeting for feedback.
- have a separate meeting each week where the sole purpose is giving and receiving feedback
- build into your 1:1 meetings specific times for giving and receiving feedback.
The research shows that while we feel more comfortable giving positive or praising feedback, it is the type of feedback we give the least. For many of the clients that I work with there is a belief that “people know when they are doing a good job and don’t need to be told” and while we might know when we are doing a good job, we absolutely need to know that others see it in order to keep doing a good job.
I also see folks save up feedback and have what I call a ‘feedback dump’ conversation. You can see how this might go sideways right? On one hand we don’t tell people what they’re doing right and on the other we save up all the criticism and give it all at once – often out of the blue – and people feel blindsided.
How can we build the muscles that are required to give more meaningful feedback in a more timely manner?
GIVING FEEDBACK: Don’t wait and save up the feedback. See something – say something. Give relevant and timely feedback as close to the incident or situation as possible.
RECEIVING FEEDBACK: Get in the habit of asking for feedback regularly. Just finished a report or big presentation? Ask what went well and what areas other see that could be improved upon.
3 – Focus On What Needs to Change Moving Forward
One of the best ways to know if you’ve executed a feedback conversation well is to look at what the person is focused on when they leave the conversation.
If a person leaves a feedback conversation focused on how the leader handled the conversation, the conversation will have little impact on future behaviours.
If a person leaves the conversation totally focused on what they need to do differently going forward to be more successful, the likelihood of a change is greatly increased.
I’m sure we all have examples of conversations we’ve been a part of over the years where all we can recall was our leader’s behaviours, and we don’t remember anything about what it was they were trying to tell us. Most of us don’t set out to do a bad job, which is why feedback conversations are difficult and emotionally uncomfortable.
How can you keep the conversation focused on what needs to change and forward focused?
GIVING FEEDBACK: Focus the conversation on the behavior that needs to change and affirm the person.
RECEIVING FEEDBACK: Ask questions and clarify what behavior needs to be different in future situations. Role play examples if needed and be sure you know what is expected of you should the situation arise again.
Feedback should never be about personal attacks. Feedback should always be about behavior – what do we want to see repeated and what do we want to see changed, modified or eliminated. Adding these three tips to your leadership toolkit will support you in giving and receiving feedback.
I write these articles to support leaders in becoming more effective by embracing all parts of themselves and increasing their capacity to practice empathy.
Thank you for being here.