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Remarkable Leadership with Kevin Eikenberry

How We Screw Up Feedback

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Over the years, I’ve come to believe and have told many groups that feedback often says as much about us as it does thefeedback performance we are giving feedback about. Even if you wouldn’t go quite that far, it is safe to say that it is difficult/impossible for our feedback not to be, at least in part, about us. This fact is something we must deal with as coaches. In this space, I want to talk about something related to that idea, but with more direct and pragmatic advice.

In teaching and talking with people about coaching, giving feedback and doing performance reviews (and other situations where feedback is at the heart of the task), I find people wanting to be really well prepared to share their perspective. They want to be prepared, have data and examples, and know exactly what to say.

This is admirable, and being well prepared is the right thing to do, but taken to the extreme, as it too often is, it gets us in trouble.

What’s the trouble?

The trouble is, we take our preparation and thought and start talking. And talking. And telling. And teaching. And talking some more.

Whose behavior and performance is this feedback about again?


Wouldn’t it be more effective if a feedback session about your performance allowed you to share your perspective too?

Shouldn’t a feedback session be a conversation?


And if you are doing all (or too much) of the talking, you don’t have a conversation (especially if you also happen to be “the boss.”)

The feedback is about their performance, so let them talk.

Of course you should be prepared, especially if the performance is really important and especially when there are some harder messages to share. But let’s alter part of that preparation just a bit.

When you are preparing for these feedback conversations, make sure you make a list of the questions you plan to ask them, and make sure you plan to start with those questions, rather than leading with your assertions and insights. And take some time to anticipate what their perspective, feelings and motives might be.

Doing these things as a part of your preparation will keep your focus on the other person, rather than on your brilliant insights and will improve the chance of a true conversation about their performance — which is what we want anyway.

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