Pursue What Matters
Episode 23: Giving Feedback: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly
Please excuse any typos, transcripts are generated by an automated service
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:00
Giving and receiving feedback, it can be one of the most difficult aspects of leading and many leaders really struggle to do it. Well. Today, we’re talking all about feedback, the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:12
Hi, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith, welcome to the Pursue What Matters podcast where we focus on what it takes to thrive in love and work. Today, we’re talking all about feedback, both giving it and receiving it, maybe you got a pit in your stomach, just hearing the word feedback? Well, you’re not alone. Feedback is hard. And this is mostly because we haven’t really had good experiences with it. But today, I’m going to try and help you overcome some of the anks you might have about feedback. I really hope you don’t have a pit in your stomach at the mention of the word feedback. But you know, don’t be too surprised if you do. Researchers have found that telling people that they will be receiving feedback is enough to kick anxiety into high gear. And you know, just as bad telling people that they will be giving feedback will also kick anxiety into high gear. Wow, we got issues people. So feedback is a hard one.
Dr. Melissa Smith 1:33
So let’s let’s learn a little bit more about that. So is it any wonder that feedback usually amounts to polite statements and vague suggestions for improvements? So in other words, our feedback is typically horribly ineffective, because we just have so much angst about it. So today, I’m really hoping to change that and make a case for why feedback really matters, and how to overcome your anxiety in both giving and receiving it, and how to do it effectively.
Dr. Melissa Smith 2:07
Okay, so first of all, feedback is an adaptive process that has been in place long before 360 assessments in our modern workplace. So you know, we see feedback in the animal kingdom. And it may be helpful to consider the ways that feedback is a common thread that keeps organisms and organizations alive and well. So I really want you to consider feedback as essential for keeping a system really any system operating effectively. So that that’s definitely true. But why is feedback so difficult for us?
Dr. Melissa Smith 2:45
So there are two main reasons for this that I want to discuss today. So first of all, our brains are acutely attuned to recognize threats. So though we don’t fend off predators today, much, our brains are still acutely attuned to threats, both physical and social. And this is really what helped us to survive and adapt through time. So negative feedback is really like Velcro to our brains, while positive feedback is like Teflon to our brain. So our brains are highly attuned to averse feedback, negative feedback, and really has has very little receptivity to positive feedback. So right, negative feedback is like Velcro. Positive feedback is like Teflon, it just does not stick. So anytime we perceive anything that is deemed threatening, such as critical feedback, that is like Velcro to our brain, we will ruminate on it. And it will feed anxiety, worry and distress. So of course, that’s not very pleasant. And then the second reason is that we’ve had bad experiences with feedback in the past, right? So we could cue first grade or second grade, or you know, pretty much any given day, in junior high. So when we think about it, we’ve all been receiving feedback our entire lives. So on the one hand, maybe it’s surprising that we continue to have difficulty with it. We receive feedback from our parents as children, we’ve received lots of feedback in the school system in the form of grades, the dreaded red marks on our papers. And then of course, most of us have received feedback and work settings, through formal performance reviews, 360 assessments and informal feedback sessions. So then again, maybe it is understandable why we have such a hard time with feedback. The reality is that most of us are pretty lousy at direct communication. We have a hard time giving direct feedback. And as I talked about, Just a minute ago, that we our brains are, are acutely attuned to threats, both physical and social. So when it comes to giving feedback, right, we avoid, right we’re we’re attuned to, to social threats. And so. So when we give feedback, we’re going to avoid giving too critical a feedback that might threaten social connection. Right? It cuts both ways. It cuts on giving feedback and receiving feedback. And so we avoid having conversations about how we relate to one another. And if you consider feedback, in large part, it is based on how we relate to one another. So many times those giving feedback fall on either one extreme of the continuum or the other.
Dr. Melissa Smith 5:55
So one, one extreme is maybe they’re conflict avoidant, so meaning they’re not willing to give direct feedback about concerns related to performance. And so the feedback is vague and not very helpful. Or perhaps they lean too far on the other end of the continuum towards aggressiveness where they seem to disregard the feelings of the individual that they’re giving feedback to, and are harshly direct with the feedback in these moments, the the feedback may be very direct and specific, but it is so blistering painful, that it is virtually impossible to act on due to the breach and the safety of the relationship. So of course, in an effort to avoid both extremes, many kind of give this milk toast feedback that is vague and nonspecific, and completely non actionable.
Dr. Melissa Smith 6:47
So no one’s feelings are hurt, but also no one improves. So that’s kind of the rub. So like I mentioned, it’s adaptive for us to be pro social. So when it comes to giving feedback, we don’t want to be too critical. So feedback ends up being pretty anemic and unhelpful. And of course, there’s got to be a better way. Because the net effect is people don’t improve organizations kind of have this lackluster approach to feedback, and it kills motivation. And it kills innovation, and creativity. And individuals don’t Excel companies don’t Excel, they don’t grow, they don’t innovate in the ways that, that they could, and at the end of the day, people don’t reach their potential and, and I just think that that’s a big problem. And so you’re not able to fulfill purpose and really reach your potential, which I think is kind of sad, actually. So while feedback makes us anxious, as employees, we do desire to receive it. So we want to improve and grow. And I think that that is a really important point to make. Like As humans, we do have this inherent desire to improve and grow. And I think at a certain level, we all recognize that feedback is essential to that improvement and growth. Even while we kind of smart against feedback or kind of, you know, it’s kind of painful to think about receiving feedback. So it makes us anxious, but we also desire to receive it. So let’s look at some of the research around this. So research indicates that 87% of employees want to be developed in their job. So they want to receive feedback and they want to grow. But only one third of these employees report actually receiving the feedback, they need to engage and improve. And that’s a really big gap. So 87% of employees want to be developed, but only one third report receiving the feedback they need to engage and improve. So really big gap really big opportunity. And so what I think is important to to note that these individuals may be receiving feedback, right? Like they’re probably having performance reviews, they’re probably having feedback feedback sessions, but it’s probably not effective feedback. So it might be too vague, it might be too nice. It might be too harsh. It may not be timely or specific enough. And so this is where you know, if you’re in a leadership position, if you are in a position of giving feedback, if you are in a position of receiving feedback, which pretty much covers everyone, I really want you to pay attention to how you can be more effective in giving and receiving feedback because it makes all the difference. And honestly it’s it’s one of the most cost effective ways that we can be more effective at work and it will pay here huge dividends in our work settings. So, okay, so now let’s kind of let’s look in the details a little bit more, because this is where the research gets a little bit tricky. So managers dread feedback sessions, because they don’t fully understand the kind of feedback that employees want or need. So that’s kind of interesting managers aren’t really sure what their employees need. And employees dread feedback sessions, because even light criticism can feel like an assault on their status and credibility. So right, we’ve got employees that feel really sensitive to any sort of feedback. So that’s, that’s really very challenging right there.
Dr. Melissa Smith 10:45
So one study found that those receiving feedback have their heart rates jump enough to indicate moderate to extreme duress in unprompted feedback situation. So, you know, we don’t we don’t want to give anyone a cardiac event. That is, that’s a little problematic. That’s a problem. So the, you know, the question is, is there any way to win. And, and this is, this is what’s happened. So the solution that a lot of companies have turned to include some of the following. And maybe some of these are familiar to you, maybe some of your companies are doing these. So the first one, I’m sure this is, this one is familiar to you. This is the sandwich approach, this is really, really popular. This is where you sandwich criticism between two compliments, hoping to ease the feedback. And that, like I said, this is really, really popular, I’d be really surprised if you hadn’t heard of this one. Another popular approach is the start stop and continue method. So this encourages employees to start doing one set of behaviors, to stop doing another and then continue doing a third, these aren’t necessarily bad approaches, I think, what’s kind of funny to me, like I think sometimes the, like, the thinking of the manager is like, Okay, well, if I, if I kind of, you know, sandwich the feedback this way, or if I, if I do this method, then maybe, you know, the, the employee, it’ll like soften the blow, or they won’t notice it as much. And what we know is that the human brain is so attuned to what is perceived as negative or critical feedback. I’m not even saying that it’s negative feedback. But what the human brain perceives as negative or critical feedback, that it doesn’t mean, it doesn’t matter. If you dress it up in a pretty bow, it doesn’t matter if you sandwich, it doesn’t matter. If you use a specific method, like that human brain is going to is going to have the Velcro stick to whatever that brain perceives as negative. So these these little kind of magic tricks, are these methods where it’s like, Okay, let me come up with, you know, three things to kind of soften the blow, and not necessarily worth your time, it’s not the most effective approach.
Dr. Melissa Smith 13:14
Okay, so let me that’s just kind of my commentary. Let me continue on with some of the research though, in research of 35 such models. So just like these ones I just shared. So the sandwich approach, the start, stop, continue model. In research of 35 such models, no organization was confident its feedback model was effective at creating lasting behavior change. So, you know, maybe leave the sandwich at home, if none of them were really that effective. So another approach that some organizations are doing is, like, they’re not even approaching feedback on the level of managers and employees, like they’re actually just throwing a ton of money at company wide initiatives to seek to improve behavior and performance for the entire organization. So they’re spending like 1200 bucks per employee, to programs geared towards bringing everyone up to speed at once, instead of working on feedback conversations directly, so they’ll maybe like roll out a big program focused on feedback. Now, I think like the upside of that is everyone kind of gets the same messaging at once, in terms of like, okay, we’re, this is how we’re shifting our approach to feedback. And so, like culturally speaking, there may be a case to be made for kind of a paradigm shift. But it, it can, it can be really expensive and I think there are some questions about how effective those approaches are.
Dr. Melissa Smith 15:05
So here’s the rub. So the growing research argues against all of these approaches. So instead, what they’re recommending, and what the research is kind of panning out to show is to develop a culture of asking for feedback may be the most cost effective way to develop healthy, ever evolving work cultures.
Dr. Melissa Smith 15:30
And, you know, doesn’t this just make the most sense. So, of course, we go back to kind of this ever present theme, when it comes to leadership. And when it comes to the world of work, and that is culture, culture, culture, culture, had a hard time saying that, but it’s really, really important that the culture you create makes all the difference. And so what they are saying is developing a culture of asking for feedback is probably going to be the most cost effective way to develop a healthy work culture. So interesting. And that’s kind of what we’re gonna pay attention to hear. And we’ll also discuss some other options besides just asking for feedback. But I want to share some of the research around that because I think it’s really intriguing. And there’s some really good research support for that. That’s just coming out.
Dr. Melissa Smith 16:28
Okay. So as we think about giving effective feedback, right, we’re so we’re moving into solutions. Now, I’ve kind of talked to you about some of the issues with feedback, some of the concerns, what’s not working and what the research is pointing to in terms of effectiveness. Now, we really want to move towards practical solutions. And when it comes to giving and receiving effective feedback, the first key first and always is that you must care about the person you are giving feedback to. There is no such thing as valuable feedback from someone you don’t trust. It just it’s not possible. This comes from research summary, where they’re talking about this research about asking for feedback, I have a link to it on the show notes. So you can you can access that summary. It’s really great summary of that research. So you can find that, that also this is something that is discussed by Kim Scott, in the great book, Radical Candor. If you didn’t catch my book review on the podcast of that book recently, definitely go back and check that out, because that’s something that she talks a lot about in her book. And so I will just talk briefly about a couple of those concepts right here, because I do think it applies really well. And it’s a really important topic. So when we think about giving feedback, so Scott, in her book talks about two dimensions that are critically important when we’re giving and receiving feedback. So the first dimension is you’ve got to care personally for the person you’re giving feedback to, right? Like, you’ve got to bring your whole person to work, you’ve got to care about the people that you lead, you’ve, you know, you’ve got to care about them more than just the job that they are performing. And then the second dimension is you’ve got to be willing to challenge directly. So you have got to be willing to be so direct, that it doesn’t leave any anything up to interpretation. So that’s pretty direct. That’s, that is pretty darn direct. And that when you care personally, and you challenge directly, that at that intersection is what she calls radical candor. Okay, and so it’s radical, meaning, it’s different from how we typically communicate, because typically, we’re very nice. We’re very kind. We’re very conflict avoidant, and she says that that is disastrous when it comes to leadership. And so she uses the word radical, because she says, We have got to say what needs to be said, and so radical is absolutely the best word for that. And then when it comes to candor, this is where she’s saying, You can’t leave anything up to interpretation. So you have got to be explicitly direct about the feedback you are giving. But you’re also humble about it, which is acknowledging that it’s your perspective. It’s your view. And it doesn’t mean that you’re not acknowledging that there are other views. And you’re not saying that your view is the only view that your view is truth, but that you’re acknowledging that there are views as well. And so when you have the intersection of caring personally and challenging directly, that’s where you have radical candor. And that’s where you can give and receive really effective feedback. And the people that you give feedback to have more trust with you. And it creates a more effective work environment, because people are more empowered to be full participating members of the team. And the work of the team becomes more effective over time. And it motivates the entire team.
Dr. Melissa Smith 20:40
So anyway, that’s an important component that Scott discusses in her book, radical candor. And it really fits with this first key, which is you must care about the person you are giving feedback, too. There’s no such thing as valuable feedback from someone you don’t trust. So we’ve got to have that in place. So related to this issue, I wanted to share something from Brene Brown’s new book, which is Dare to Lead. So this is a really awesome book, I actually just got back from an intensive training with Brene Brown on this curriculum, I’m really excited because now I’m going to be able to provide this training to business teams. So if you’re interested in this training, definitely talk to me because I would love to come bring this curriculum and this research to your team because it’s really incredible. So in in her powerful book, Dare to Lead, Brown discusses the heart of daring leadership and what it means to rumble. So that’s her term, that and she says that a rumble is a discussion, conversation or meeting defined by a commitment to lean into vulnerability to stay curious and generous, to stick with the messy middle of problem identification and solving to take a break and circle back when necessary to be fearless in owning our parts. And as psychologists, Harriet Lerner teaches to listen with the same passion with which we want to be heard. Okay, so I think that’s like a really, really great way to think about feedback. Because feedback often feels like a rumble, a rumble is often a difficult conversation or one of those challenging feedback sessions. So Brown continues, “courage is contagious, to scale, daring leadership and build courage in teams and organizations, we have to cultivate a culture in which brave work, tough conversations, and whole hearts are the expectation and armor is not necessary or rewarded.” And so with this, she’s really talking about leaning into vulnerability. And we’ve got to come to these conversations with our walls down. And so there’s no room for defensiveness, we need to be willing to be open. And this is really where we have to trust that the other person has good intent for us, and that they care for us and they want what’s best for us. And that in those situations, we can remind ourselves that, though feedback can be kind of painful to receive, because it kind of it will always kind of sting a little bit. I mean, that’s just kind of the nature of the game. But that we can remind ourselves that, Hey, I know this person cares for me, and I can trust that this person has good intent for me. So there’s no need for me to put my guard up, there’s no need for me to armor up. There’s no need for me to hide behind a wall. And so just keeping that in mind, I think having some of that self talk in place can be really, really helpful before these feedback sessions, and sometimes even during these conversations. And then the last point from Brown, she says, “daring leaders must care for and be connected to the people they lead.” And of course, that’s just really similar to what we’ve already talked about in terms of this first key that you must care about the people you are giving feedback to.
Dr. Melissa Smith 24:30
And so for you as leaders, if you’re preparing to give feedback to someone, I think that that’s the first thing to pay attention to, you might be upset about a situation or you might be angry or something. But you need to settle in your heart first, like can you connect to your care for this person, because if you can’t do that first, then you should probably give yourself more time before you deliver that feedback. Because if you can’t connect to care, that feedback session is probably going to be really ineffective. And it’s probably going to really harm the relationship. And so, you know, I’m not saying that you don’t deliver the tough feedback, because you probably need to develop to deliver the tough feedback. But make sure that you are also delivering the care and then that other person can receive that and knows that. So it’s really important to keep that in mind. The next solution to keep in mind is to keep feedback targeted, specific and timely. So the farther away we get from a situation where you know, feedback would have been helpful, the less effective it becomes, because we just don’t have any connection to the situation. So as much as possible, we want that feedback to be targeted to the situation. We want it to be specific and timely.
Dr. Melissa Smith 25:54
Okay, another approach is that this is what I talked I alluded to earlier in terms of what could be more effective moving forward. And that is, rather than giving feedback, switch to asking for feedback. So in this way, organizations really tilt their culture towards continuous improvement, smarter decision making, and stronger, more resilient teams that can adapt as needed. So this puts the individual seeking feedback in the driver’s seat, which is a great proactive stance that empowers the one giving feedback to be more direct. So the feedback seeker wants to grow, wants to improve. And it really would be a disservice for the feedback provider to refuse the feedback. So this is a simple yet profound shift that can create powerful changes within the organization. So what you’ll see is, you’ll get more honest feedback. And this permission is key for putting both parties in a psychological state. That’s that that makes them ready for critical feedback. And it prepares both for the feedback session, better than not asking for feedback. So it’s, it’s really a very, very, very good approach. The other thing to pay attention to is that just just recognize that when you’re giving or receiving feedback, it’s going to be uncomfortable. So recognize that your body will want to fight, flee or freeze. And you will need to overcome this primitive instinct. And that’s what it is like it is a primitive instinct, the goal is to minimize the threat response. So you know, this fight, flee or freeze response is the threat response. And so the goal is to minimize that threat response.
Dr. Melissa Smith 27:52
So a few things that you could do to help yourself. You could use paced breathing to slow your heart rate down, you can remind yourself that you are safe. And that direct feedback is a value you hold and that there’s nothing to be afraid of. Right, you can remind yourself that the person is trustworthy, that they have good intent for you. So some of the things I said a little bit earlier, you could jot down some notes before the feedback session, so you can refer to them as it may be more challenging to think clearly during the session. So that could always be helpful. Just have a couple of notes for yourself, you could take some time to gather your thoughts during the session. So it’s okay to ask for a minute before responding to questions. So oftentimes, when we’re in those situations where that threat response is kicking in, everything tends to speed up. So our heart rate speeds up, our breathing speeds up and gets more shallow. And our head kind of starts spinning, meaning our mind and our thoughts kind of start spinning. And so what you want to do is you want to do everything you can to slow the process down. And so it’s okay to ask for a minute before responding to questions and just take some time to slow yourself down. And honestly, the person in the room with you would probably appreciate that.
Dr. Melissa Smith 29:21
So it’s okay to make space for yourself in there. You could also consider using the scarf model, so SCARF with each component that refers to a domain of social interaction that can create a threat or reward state in participants. So I’ll just I’ll go over those and hopefully that can help you. So the first one is status. So you think about connection without a power trip. So certainty. So something that can be really helpful is to set a clear and time set a clear agenda. So Right, like, if you’re the one giving the feedback, you can say, Hey, I just want to meet with you. For the next 10 minutes, I want to talk with you about how, you know, I want to talk with you about your quarterly report related on related to sells for, you know, region five. So set a clear and time set a clear agenda, so that the person knows what to expect. So that certainty can really, really help to decrease that threat response. And then autonomy is the next one. So this is where the person giving feedback can provide some valuable guidance without meddling, right, so what, you know, how can I support you without being too intrusive? And then the next one is relatedness. So this is where the person giving the feedback can communicate a sense of genuine care, right? So to be able to say, How are you doing, you know, those, those genuine expressions of care, which, you know, hopefully, you have those feelings, that’s gonna be important. And then five, is a sense of fairness. So to, and this is where the person giving feedback, really can communicate, desire to hear to listen to the other perspective, and to be the so this is, you know, think about radical candor and to pay attention to Okay, this is my perspective, this is how I’m seeing the situation helped me understand your perspective. So it’s that humility, aspect of candor, to be able to say, this is my perspective, help me understand your perspective. Right, it’s acknowledging that your perspective is not the only perspective here. And so that absolutely communicates this sense of fairness. And all of that helps to reduce the threat response in the other person. So all of that is the scarf model. So status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness.
Dr. Melissa Smith 32:15
Another solution that could be helpful, I think this is actually always helpful is to lead by example. So leaders can start by asking for feedback and setting an example of openness to those they lead, this is actually really powerful. So the key is to get people used to getting feedback that was asked for, so you can definitely start small. But leaders who can take the first step, they signal to the wider organization that asking is important. And the low stakes questions help build trust and autonomy. So it’s okay, start small. But that really helps to establish the new culture to say, this is what we do here. We ask for feedback and leaders doing that sets a powerful example. So people are given space to feel heard, which is status and inclusion. And of course, this really empowers team members to give better feedback over time. So there are three criteria to really encourage a growth mindset over time, you know, when we think about asking for feedback, so you know, to ask broadly, right across different domains, this is for the leaders to ask explicitly, right? So to be specific, in what you’re asking for feedback for, and to ask often. So those three areas will help to encourage this growth mindset, and to help establish this culture within the organization over time.
Dr. Melissa Smith 33:56
Okay, so then the last solution that I want to provide for you is developing resilience skills. And this is for everyone. This is for those giving and receiving feedback. And really, I mean, we’re all in that position of giving and receiving feedback. So I think that this is where self talk can be really very helpful to remind ourselves that we’re not fragile, and to remind ourselves around of our value, around feedback and to really learn to see feedback as a gift. And as a vehicle for growth. I think this is where a reminder in the growth mindset can be so helpful, that feedback is a route to growth. And it is really the way we grow is by you know, by receiving feedback, and, you know, correcting mistakes and kind of learning across those edges. And then also learning to tolerate our distress and your our ability to do that absolutely builds resilience. So I think a big part of this is, you know, creating a paradigm shift within ourselves that rather than fearing feedback, learning to welcome feedback, and I really do think, you know, this shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset, can be a really big part of this paradigm shift that can be so helpful. And then I think the other part of that equation is just learning to tolerate distress, and recognize that, like, it’s not going to kill you, and that it’s okay, and learning to breathe through some of these anxious moments and recognize, like, it’s okay, like, you’re still standing, you’re going to be okay. And just coping well, through some of these anxious moments can can be really very powerful. And I think after, you know, after some of these feedback sessions to do the self talk after those feedback sessions, and to remind yourself like, okay, that wasn’t that bad. And like I don’t, like I don’t need to work myself up in a frenzy, and like, there’s no need to get upset or to anticipate the worst. And that can make a difference for the next time so that when, you know, you hear you’ve got another feedback session coming up, where your boss says, Hey, can I talk to you for a few minutes, you can do some of that prep work in advance to say, It’s okay, like, this doesn’t have to be a big deal. And at the end of the day, it’s, you know, when we think about resilience, and we think about distress tolerance, it’s all about developing this inner trust within yourself to be able to say, I can cope. And I can count on myself, to, to manage myself and to do well, it doesn’t mean I’m perfect, it doesn’t mean I have everything figured out. But I can count on myself. And having that sort of trust within yourself, is what resilience is all about. And I think that, you know, that builds a kind of confidence, a kind of quiet confidence that is really powerful. And other people notice it, it’s a great thing.
Dr. Melissa Smith 37:28
So okay, there you go. So there we have several solutions to help to give and receive more effective feedback. So there you go. We’ve talked about feedback, the good, the bad, the ugly, hopefully, you know, you’re less resistant to giving and receiving feedback. And you can see how affect effective feedback is really a gift. And I hope that you feel a little better equipped to do just that. It’s it’s such an important part of leadership. And really like all of our relationships, we need to be able to do this well. So I hope you find it useful in all of your relationships. So make sure you head on over to my website to check out the show notes with all the great resources for this episode at www.drmelissasmith.com/episode-23 one more time, that’s www.drmelissasmith.com/episode-23.. I so appreciate you for being here today and every week. So make sure you subscribe on iTunes so you don’t ever miss an episode. You can also subscribe on my website so you can get my email every week and you can listen to the podcast that way. I’m also on Spotify. So lucky you you can find me that way. lots of ways to listen to the podcast. Thanks again. I really appreciate it. I’m Dr. Melissa Smith. Remember love and work, work and love. That’s all there is. Until next time, take good care.
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