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By Jim Meads, President and Becky White, Vice President / Organization Development
Management coaches are adamant in their advice to be generous with praise. We’ve heard recommendations for positive to negative ratios ranging from 3:1 to 5:1. Praise is definitely important, but we find most of our growth comes from accepting and acting upon negative feedback. That kind of feedback is so important, but it gets a bad rap when prefaced with the word “negative”. That’s probably why the Center for Creative Leadership insists on using the term “developmental feedback”. It is intended to help us learn, and that’s a good thing!
At Sain Associates we encourage a culture that seeks and accepts feedback. Our goal is to have a workforce that is comfortable giving and receiving feedback, seeing it as a way to affirm positive effort and fuel change when outcomes are unsatisfactory. To support this cultural vision, we ask for comments from our clients on a regular basis, host annual Quality Control Summits for every work group in the firm, and conduct annual client interviews as part of our strategic planning process. Some of the best change initiatives we’ve implemented have come out of those three feedback loops.
But knowing medicine is good for what ails you doesn’t make taking it (or dispensing it) enjoyable. Most people get uncomfortable when feedback is critical or corrective in nature. Over the years we’ve found these principles to be helpful when giving and receiving developmental feedback:
When you need to give feedback:
- Be timely. Don’t wait too long to say what you need to say.
- Don’t avoid the message. Get to the point and be specific.
- State the behavior or outcome you have observed and ask for an explanation.
- State what you perceive to be the impact of the behavior.
- Don’t be judgmental.
- Control your emotions, and give the receiver time and space to process the feedback.
When receiving feedback:
- Keep an open mind and a positive spirit. Remember that developmental feedback can help you improve.
- Listen, paraphrase, and ask clarifying questions.
- Don’t be defensive.
- Ask for suggestions on how you can perform better.
- Say thank you.
- Do something positive with what you heard.
There have been times when we have found humor to be a very helpful tool to relieve tension associated with negative feedback. In a QC Summit we did several years ago with an internal work group we were going to have to sort through some tough internal criticism aimed at how the team was functioning. Everyone came to the meeting tense and dreading the discussion. Becky started by telling the all-female team that is was time to put on their big girl panties. She then modeled an outrageous pair of real big girl panties. The hysterical laughter broke the tension and helped us face the hard stuff together and with a positive attitude.
No individual or company performs perfectly all the time. If you are facing critical feedback, lighten up your attitude, listen and learn.