Feedback. It’s a term that can fill many with trepidation. If you’re the one giving it, the thought of being critical to someone may make you extremely uncomfortable. If you’re the one receiving it, you may interpret the feedback as a criticism or a personal attack on your character. The result? Maybe you bear the brunt of the perceived attack. Or, perhaps no feedback is given at all. Even worse, perhaps you are offered dishonest and unwarranted praise aimed at achieving some semblance of artificial harmony. In the latter two cases, discomfort is avoided and feelings are spared. And an opportunity for growth is wasted.
What if leaders deliberately decided to seize control of the feedback process within their team? Constructive feedback bridges the gap between leaders’ compassion and their desire to enable those on their team to reach and maybe even exceed their potential. Compassionate leaders place the needs of their team members above their own feelings of discomfort. That means delivering both genuine praise and hard-to-hear criticism.
Here are four suggestions on how to do that:
Make it purposeful
Constructive feedback has a clear purpose. It’s meant to build people up. To expose people to the things they need to stop doing, start doing, or continue doing. It’s an opportunity to evaluate behaviours, highlight strengths, and discuss performance deficiencies.
In short, constructive feedback is fuel for enabling someone to reach their potential. So state exactly that. For example, I begin every feedback session with the following phrase:
“I’m going to provide some constructive feedback to you. I want you to know that my praise is sincere and genuine. I also want you to know that when I highlight areas for improvement, I’m doing so from a position of care. I’m committed to seeing you realize your full potential. One of the best ways I can do this is by being open and honest with you. In turn, I ask that you do the same with me.
Make it honest
Honesty demands that you mean what you say and say what you mean. You avoid hiding behind conversational escape mechanisms such as sarcasm, extemporaneous jokes, and double-entendres. Instead, you approach difficult conversations knowing that truth is power. When a team member needs corrective counsel, you deliver it. If this seems harsh, it’s only because the truth can hurt. That’s ok. Because if you build a reputation whereby your words are trusted, then any compassion you show will be seen as genuine rather than a meaningless platitude. The sting of honesty is balanced by the sincerity of honesty. The truth can hurt but it can also heal. That’s growth.
Make it irregular
Periodic formal feedback sessions serve a purpose. That said, a leader does not need to wait for such sessions to offer constructive feedback. If you see a behaviour that merits correction, correct it right away. Don’t wait for some scheduled session several months later. By that point, the learning opportunity will likely be lost or forgotten. When it comes to constructive feedback, strike while the iron is hot. To do otherwise simply prolongs poor behaviours and fails to reinforce the good ones.
Make it 360
Leaders need to lead by example. That means embracing opportunities for growth. Allow yourself to be vulnerable. When you take time to offer feedback to a team member, ask them to reciprocate. You might learn something about yourself and your leadership style. Plus, you’ll build trust between you and your team.
Constructive feedback is one of the wisest investments leaders can make in their team members. It costs nothing and, when done right, pays dividends. For the good of you, your team, and your organization, commit to making this investment. It’s one of the greatest legacies you can leave in your leadership wake.
Written by Anthony Robb
Gasparotto Group helps organizations create cultures that develop highly effective leaders and build strong, resilient teams.