When it comes to feedback – we need to radically change the way we approach it and start seeing feedback for what it is – a gift.
Unfortunately, feedback is more like a dirty word because many of us have made the mistake of confusing it with praise or criticism.
Don’t get me wrong. Praise has a place in the world. Praise sounds like “well done”, “great work”, or “go team!” It’s great for morale. It makes people feel good. But it doesn’t increase performance.
Criticism, however, is a double whammy. “They’re hopeless”, “they have no idea”, or “that wasn’t good enough”. Not only does criticism kill morale – it also doesn’t increase performance.
Praise and criticism are opinions. They’re judgements we make – generalisations from which others must play guesswork. Neither point out what was good, what was bad, or why.
At a game of football – would you expect the players to take their guidance from the cheer squad or the coach? The cheer squad may lift energy, yes, but the coach directs the gameplay.
Constructive feedback is distinct from praise and criticism. It’s constructive in that it is about behavior, and the impact of that behavior on performance. Constructive feedback can be positive or negative.
Positive constructive feedback is about a specific behavior that has a favourable impact. It sounds like: “When you prepare agendas for our weekly WIPs, it’s great because it means we effectively manage our meeting time. Thank you”.
Negative constructive feedback is about a specific behavior that has an undesirable impact. For example “When you turn up to our WIP’s without an agenda, it’s a challenge because we often miss important points that you can’t help but distract me with later. Next time, can I ask that you prepare for our WIPs with a brief agenda.”
Appreciating the difference between praise, criticism or constructive feedback can be nuanced.
For example, calling out someone as “organized” is praise. Appreciating that they effectively use their calendar and consistently meet deadlines is constructive. Calling someone “creative” is also praise. Noticing that they share new ideas in meetings that spark different thinking is constructive.
When we take the time to give our colleagues constructive feedback – positive or negative – it truly is a gift. We all make faster gains when we highlight what we appreciate what people do well, and where we see their opportunities for improvement.
And the way to receive the gift of feedback? A mere thank you will suffice! (Unless you never want to receive that gift again!)
Giving constructive feedback is easy when you have the tools and a culture of psychological safety. Empowering your team with the skills to give and receive feedback builds trust, respect, and delivers measurable performance outcomes. Mastering Feedback is best done in teams so that everyone adopts the new behaviours together and collaborate on change.
If you’d like to sharpen up your team’s feedback and coaching skills, speak to me about my Team Alchemy program – an affordable and effective leadership development initiative that delivers measurable results.