Make a Point to Talk with Your Team About Feedback
As many workplaces have shifted to virtual teams, giving regular performance or development feedback may have fallen to the wayside. Giving feedback can be difficult — even during the best of times. Receiving feedback, no matter where or how it is delivered, can be an emotional process — triggering embarrassment, fear, anger, defensiveness, and denial. Given today's challenges in the workplace, have you avoided giving your team feedback?
“I think it is very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better.”— Elon Musk
How has the need for RECEIVING or Giving Feedback Changed for you and your team?
First, it might not hurt to acknowledge with your team that you are all learning in the “new normal” and that feedback remains an important part of both you and your team's development strategies. Ask them what they would like feedback on—and indicate what you would like to give them feedback on, setting the stage for conversations going forward. As a manager, it can be difficult to gauge what your team is working on in the moment when you don't have the advantage of working alongside them in the office and it can also be difficult to see where they are struggling. Conversely, your team might feel like they are adrift, or are not sure what their managers are contributing. Acknowledge that projects, and therefore feedback and performance, has shifted and that you may need to work out a new way to work together to incorporate feedback—especially if it is performance related.
Coaching Supports Leaders as They Experience Feedback
Here are some tips from our consultant, Holly Seaton, a FlashPoint facilitator and coach, on giving feedback that might come in handy during these challenging times:
Take a “coach approach” to feedback by understanding why people fear and react to it. You are not only dealing with what is current in your leader’s world, but their history, how they are “wired”, and their beliefs about what feedback means. Acceptance of or sensitivity to feedback often has roots in the biological and social history of that leader or their communication style and preferences.
Factors that can enhance or interfere with a leader's acceptance of feedback are:
- A general state of contentment, happiness, and resilience appears to increase our tolerance for even the toughest feedback.
- The process of receiving feedback can trigger a normal grieving process of shock, denial, and acceptance.
- Leaders who have a longer emotional recovery time or wider swings in mood may initially be more upset.
- Some leaders may be sensitive to feedback because they see it as criticism and they may have a history of being more guarded.
- Feedback can trigger a biological fear response of “fight or flight” in some leaders.
- Beliefs play a major role in acceptance of feedback — a leader who understands that feedback is not personal will react differently than another who believes that feedback reflects a greater judgment of who they are as a person.
Responding to Strong Emotions When Giving Feedback
First and foremost, remember that another part of our brain takes over when we’re in a high emotional state. We are less able to process information accurately, communicate clearly, or be future-oriented. So how can a manager respond to common emotions when their leaders receive feedback?
Oh no, there’s tears
It is okay to push the pause button when somebody is distraught. You may need to be comfortable with allowing the other person to regain control at their speed. Comments like “You are really upset right now” and “Getting feedback can be confusing and unsettling” let the leader know you are willing to be there with them. It’s perfectly okay to say that the leader has all the time they needs. Be sure not to assume that you know why the person is crying, but wait and offer them time. Stay still yourself. Your empathy and humanness will be appreciated.
Dealing with defensiveness, blame, and deflection
Defensiveness comes from a deeper level and can often be about not feeling safe. If you have a leader who is rejecting perceived negative feedback by talking about why the feedback is not valid, reflect on what you are seeing and hearing, such as: “You have some strong emotions now and you’re not sure that what others have reported is valid or helpful to you. Is that what you are saying? . . . It may not be. Let’s talk a little more about that.”
By not confronting or calling out the defensiveness, you have indicated that you are willing to hear their perspective. It gives you greater leverage to go back with them to see if there is any feedback they can take in. Do not push any message or agenda when the leader is defensive. Let the situation defuse with continued acknowledgment. In most cases you will notice an opening to provide a refocus.
It’s common for leaders to get quiet as they look more deeply at written feedback. Again, make it safe by saying “I notice you have gotten a little quiet. I wonder what you might be feeling or thinking. Would you be willing to share your thoughts?” Don’t try to fill the silence with your own talk. If you can sit with them in their silence, they may feel more comfortable talking with they are ready, or suggest rescheduling a virtual meeting.
Anger and intensity
This can be one of the most challenging situations for a manager or coach and it is important to not let your own “fight and flight” response. The anger is not directed at you. Use a neutral and calm tone to acknowledge and validate what the leader is saying. Remember that anger is a secondary emotion and underneath the anger is often fear, frustration, and helplessness. After acknowledging what the leader is saying, state the fact that the conversation cannot continue in this manner. Ask, “What can you do to help you be in a better place to continue?”
It is helpful to have some supportive and inquiring phrases in the aftermath of a strong emotional reaction from a leader. Ask, “What feedback were you hoping to get?” or “What feedback made the most sense to you?”
At FlashPoint we support many clients by implementing The Leadership Practices Inventory® — an assessment tool that provides feedback to leaders on how frequently they demonstrate 30 leadership behaviors which adds structure and measurement to their leadership development process. Leaders receive their LPI® report within the context of a Leadership Challenge® workshop or sometimes more privately while working with a coach, typically a Trained LPI® Coach.
This post was originally published in 2017 by FlashPoint consultant, Holly Seaton, and updated in 2020.