I recently read an interesting Zenger Folkman white paper on feedback. What caught my eye is that more than 50 percent of people whom they surveyed said that corrective feedback has helped their career more than positive feedback has.
Ken Blanchard loves to share former colleague Rick Tate’s assertion “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” To me, this statement implies feedback is a gift—if both giver and receiver are open to seeing it that way. The hope would be that the feedback would give the receiver new insight in service of their growth and development, not immobilize or anger them. And yet, as they move up in their career many people find they receive less and less meaningful feedback of any kind. Why would that be?
A clue can be found in the aforementioned survey on feedback. Many of the respondents who said corrective feedback has helped their career also said they themselves were resistant to giving it. I get that—no one wants to be the bearer of bad news or to de-motivate someone else. But my take on the situation is that a lot of people crave honest feedback, and it’s courageous to offer it—as long as it’s done with compassion, thoughtfulness, and no ulterior motives.
In an effort to identify skills and methodologies used by business coaches, the International Coaching Federation has defined eleven core coaching competencies. One of those competencies is direct communication—and part of that competency encourages coaches to be “clear, articulate, and direct in sharing and providing feedback” to their clients. I think we all need to do this more often, remembering that feedback is a beginning step, not an end in itself.
In addition to courage and compassion, here are a few things to keep in mind if you choose to give the gift of corrective feedback.
- Focus on observable behaviors, not personality traits. People are more able to change or develop a behavior than to alter their personality. When you gear your feedback toward suggested behaviors such as listening better, taking time to build relationships, or enhancing presentation skills, it gives the feedback recipient something concrete to focus on. Also, be prudent with your feedback by focusing on just one or two topics at a time.
- Keep a positive end goal in mind. Think about the positive change you would like the person to make, and paint a picture for them that gives them a vision to work toward. This is far more effective than focusing on what the person is doing wrong.
- Offer to be an accountability partner. Changing in isolation is hard. If your recipient is open to change, offer support. This might include helping them devise an action plan or scheduling a weekly or monthly check in. Also, catch them doing something right—keep your eye out for when they make positive strides and praise them. It’s great reinforcement.
Can you find the courage to gift someone you know with clear, articulate, and direct feedback? Are you willing to be a support system for someone else’s development? If your answer is yes, great! My advice is to start small, in a low-risk situation. For example, practice with someone you feel safe being a learner with. Tell them providing corrective feedback is a skill you want to develop. You can agree to reciprocate, with them offering feedback and accountability support to you as well.
Giving corrective feedback effectively is a skill worth having. Give it a try and let us know how it goes!
About the Author
Joanne Maynard is a senior coach with The Ken Blanchard Companies’ Coaching Services team. Since 2000, Blanchard’s 130 coaches have worked with over 14,500 individuals in more than 250 companies throughout the world. Learn more at Blanchard Coaching Services. And check out Coaching Tuesday every week at Blanchard LeaderChat for ideas, research, and inspirations from the world of executive coaching.