Authentic Feedback

Parents say to their children, “That was fantastic, awesome or terrific” knowing that they are exaggerating or stretching the truth. They wish to encourage and build confidence at a critical stage of their development. This practice however, spills over into the workplace as managers deliver the same inaccurate pronouncements, which can lead to a distorted picture of performance. People accustomed to receiving only positive comments are surprised when confronted by the harsh reality that they may not be as good as they think they are.

Ironically, some people are afraid to give negative feedback for fear it will hurt feelings, cause friction and effect relationships.  The inability to deliver honest and accurate feedback can backfire and cause more harm than good. It can generate feelings of entitlement and under performance. It is hard to know how far you have to go, if you have an incorrect GPS reading of your location. If people care for others and want them to improve, they cannot shelter them from accurate criticism. If there is something they need to know, they should be told the truth, as soon as possible.

Ideally, managers should be trained to select the right words, moment and situation to deliver the message, but this is not always the case. We cannot wait for the right training program to come along to get this done. Since, the real objective is improvement; full disclosure should be a no brainer. Imagine the chaos in the sports if umpires, judges, coaches and referees did not call the game with integrity in their evaluations.

Some people give erroneous feedback because they do not know what good or excellent looks like. They will use words like great, awesome, tremendous and superb because they don’t know any better. The meaning of these words is diluted and may ultimately lose their power due to inconsistent application.

Delivering authentic feedback is an issue in our personal lives. We notice weight gain in someone close to us before it is a health issue, but we say nothing. We witness destructive behavior and sit back silently, hoping it will go away on its own. We can intervene in a problem before it is magnified out of control, but we are more concerned with avoiding friction than preserving their health, improving their actions and overall performance. Sometimes, the recipient makes it uncomfortable for us to be candid by their reactions to other attempts at providing accurate and realistic assessment of their behavior.

Inaccurate information in our professional or private lives is disservice to everyone. If they go through life coddled and rarely told the truth about their performance, they will be shocked when someone tells them the whole truth.

“You can’t handle the truth” spoke so forcefully by Jack Nicolson as Col. Jessup in A Few Good Men is sadly a reality in many cases. Why can’t they handle the truth? They will have to learn to accept the truth, regardless of who is speaking it. We don’t often have the luxury to pick the messenger to bring us the message.

Some of our best teachers and coaches are reviled, revered and often feared because they told the truth. They were blunt and did not sugar coat the message. They gave us the hard cold facts. They treated everyone the same way. They were the equal opportunity abuser, but were appreciated because they were fair. Their candor and high standards were more constructive in our development than all of the face-saving inauthentic messages combined.

There is another barrier to effective feedback. This situation involves a restricted view of activities in the workplace. Many managers wonder why their direct reports results do not improve after managerial suggestions, input or feedback. They often give ineffective feedback because they are not seeing and commenting on reality. A sales representative was tentative in her response to a customer’s accusation. She fumbled awkwardly in her response, which was not her nature. Rather than comment on her actions, her manager was astute enough to recognize she was not herself. He asked how she would have handled the call if he wasn’t there. She gave a powerful, forthright, in your face, appropriate rebuttal to the customer’s challenge of the integrity of their product. She had been holding back because she didn’t know how he would react to her reaction. He told her to be authentic and show him reality. Otherwise, he would leave the day feeling he had given valuable input only to have her discard his comments, because they did not apply to her. All managers want their comments to be meaningful and relevant, but they need to see the complete picture. No one wants to engage in a game of subterfuge and wasting time.

A trust relationship is essential, so people can expose their weaknesses and have them evaluated and developed appropriately. Managers look for shortcomings to include in employee performance evaluations. Therefore, employees are reluctant to give them anything substantive to work with. They want the manager to work for it and discover information on their own. It is counter intuitive for the employee to risk demonstrating a weakness in front of their manager. Ratings, merit increases and jobs are based on managerial assessment. In the proper culture, it is advantageous to everyone, when the climate is ripe for risk taking and authentic feedback. This will allow real growth to occur and the entire corporation to benefit.

What should you say initially, when we are worried about being too harsh? Here are a few examples until you get use to giving feedback that authentic and tough enough to get the job done. I am sure you can select better ones, but the intent is to be transparent, truthful and authentic.

  • “I want to see more of that.” (When you catch them doing something correctly)
  • “Can you do that again, more consistently?”
  • “That’s it. That’s the way to do it. That’s how it should be done.”
  • “You are making progress or you almost had it.”
  • “You have come a long way in a short period of time, how can we make it better?”
  • “You are getting closer to your goal.”

The goal is performance improvement. Authentic feedback is the vehicle to accelerate this process. Inaccurate feedback can lead to unrealistic expectations and feelings of discouragement, disappointment and betrayal when the truth is finally revealed. This could have a detrimental effect on morale and productivity. Authentic feedback allows an accurate assessment of skills, abilities, talent utilization and performance. This is vitally necessary to drastically improve individual and group performance.

Copyright © 2010 Orlando Ceaser

2 thoughts on “Authentic Feedback

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