There is a great article in the current issue of Harvard Business Review about feedback. For decades now, we’ve been lectured on the value of feedback…how to give it…how to receive it…what to do with it. Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall have written a great piece here that, not surprisingly, supports Buckingham’s prior work.
Feedback is different than instruction. Instruction is telling people what steps to follow and what factual knowledge they need. Instruction is necessary and useful. Feedback is telling someone what you think of their performance and how they should do it better. On that, Buckingham states, the research is clear: Telling people what we think of their performance and how we think they should improve often doesn’t help them thrive and excel.
Why? The article asserts that feedback is ultimately rooted in our own self-centeredness, taking our experience as a given and assuming that our way is the right way. In reality, the research shows that humans are unreliable and inconsistent raters of other humans.
If traditional feedback isn’t the best approach to helping people get better, what should we be doing? Buckingham and Goodall advise us to speak through the lens of our own experience. To make it personal; because it is. Instead of saying, “You’re not responsive”, try saying “Here’s what I was sensing when you didn’t respond.” Instead of saying, “You’re not a strategic thinker”, try saying, “Here’s where your proposals tend to lose me.” Then explore that with the other person. Their research shows that this approach promotes a more engaged approach to personal growth.
Give it a try.