Leaders Must Develop the Skill of Feedback

By now you’ve probably heard about the Wall Street Journal article of April 20th chronicling the heaping of praise on the youngest working generation and how businesses are struggling to keep up with the practice.

Written by Jeffrey Zastrow, the article refers to employers “dishing out kudos to workers for little more than showing up” and corporations “hiring consultants to teach managers how to compliment employees” using various “public displays of appreciation.”

The outcry has been loud and unduly shrill, in my estimation. Appreciation is a very good thing. When it’s due.

Let’s all step back, take a deep breath, and consider an alternative. How about providing real feedback instead of praise?

Feedback of any kind is hard to come by these days. There’s a deep-seated fear of being ‘inappropriate’ or ‘judgmental’ or worse, saying something that might unwittingly invite a lawsuit. For these and probably many other reasons (none good), feedback is rare. Good feedback is nearly extinct.

What is good feedback? It comes in three parts. The first part is descriptive; it simply articulates what is seen without judgment. The second part is interpretive. It makes meaning out of what was seen, understanding that context is an important shaper of meaning. The third part is evaluative; it comes to some judgment about what happened. This means that what was seen is deemed right/wrong, appropriate/inappropriate, a success or a failure. It also considers next steps. The best feedback joins both parties in a discussion of alternative actions, approaches, or methods to deliver a better outcome.

Good feedback is developmental; its intention is to help the recipient grow and improve.

Daring to provide real feedback takes some courage and a lot of practice. Most people tend to have a very small space between witnessing something and judging it. Managers, responsible for assessing certain workplace behaviors, can be among the most reactive in this regard. It takes patience to understand what happened, the context in which it occurred, and whether it was okay or not. I can hear it now: “Who’s got that kind of time?”

Think about it. It’s easy to dole out praise, but if you stop to consider the implications of indiscriminate praise, you can appreciate why it is not only unsatisfying to the recipient, but also why it might lead to a lot more trouble down the road.

Take the time to learn and develop true feedback skills. You’ll be acting like a leader and making a difference in the lives of the young people you influence.

Categories: Leadership

About Susan Marshall

founder susan marshall

Susan A. Marshall is author, speaker and founder, whose mission is to create a stronger, more confident future, one person or team at a time.  Through personal experience and hands-on work with executives from diverse industries at all levels, Susan has had the privilege of helping thousands of people do the difficult and exhilarating work of growth.