In previous articles we have looked at the importance of interpersonal feedback in both our personal and professional lives. Feedback is so fundamental to our interpersonal relationships that most people believe they have an innate ability to deliver it. But, in fact, most people are actually ineffective in delivering feedback. Perhaps the reason is that too many of us tend to gloss over what we believe are the simple things andpay more attention to what we believe to be complex or difficult. Whatever the reason, feedback is the foundational element of all successful interpersonal relationships. With effective feedback relationships can work, and without it relationships are doomed to failure. The regrettable truth is that far too many people, both at home and at work, demonstrate poor feedback skills. That’s why we have spent eight months learning to be more effective in delivering feedback!
Feedback is the fourth most important ingredient of life for a mentally healthy human. It follows only air, water and food on the list of basic human needs. Appropriate feedback brings people a level of comfort that is difficult to achieve from any other source. Inappropriate feedback creates a level of discomfort and friction that commonly produces undesired behaviors. The ability to deliver feedback, therefore, really ought to be taught as a basic interpersonal skill. Regrettably, most people are left to figure out how to deliver feedback on their own.
One of the best ways to learn feedback skills is to associate with people who do it well. Although I’ve worked for many people, two former bosses in the retail industry come to mind. Richard, for example, was a boss who had exceptional feedback skills, while Joe had unbelievably poor skills. While working for Richard I found myself looking for ways to be more effective in my job responsibilities, as well as looking for ways to help him in his responsibilities.
Joe, on the other hand, made me frustrated, uninvolved, worry-prone, and sometimes less than productive. I recall for example, a time when I was summoned to Joe’s office for an unscheduled meeting. As I hurried up the back stairway to his office, I convinced myself that something was wrong. I was certain that I was in a hurry to attend a chew-out session. My imagination ran wild in the few minutes it took me to reach his office with numerous possibilities, all negative. But then, when the meeting began I found out that the reason I had been summoned was to merely give me some information that I needed for a project I was working on. There wasn’t a problem; I wasn’t getting fired; nothing was wrong; I wasn’t even in trouble. And all of my worry had been for nothing.
The reason my mind ran wild with negative possibilities that day was due to the poor relationship I had with Joe. His failure to give me the feedback that I so desperately needed to nourish OUT relationship caused me to not only distrust him and the situation, but to also expect the worst to happen. Even though I had studied the principles of feedback and was well aware of its effects on people, both positive and negative, I was nonetheless unable to separate myself from assuming the worst. That’s because I need supportive feedback, just like you and everyone else.
Contrast that experience to the time I worked for Richard. He went out of his way to listen to my ideas, counsel my aspirations, and coach my behavior. When I was successful lie noticed and gave me supportive feedback. When I was less than successful he corrected me with appropriate feedback that did not damage my self-worth. When I spoke he listened with his full attention. When he asked for my opinion I knew full well that my good ideas would be implemented without question or reservation. Richard knew me, my wife’s name, details about my children’s lives, my goals, my strengths, my weaknesses, my worries, and my fears. In short, he knew me because he cared about me. And because he knew me, he gave me feedback,
So how was my performance for Richard, as compared to Joe? I would like to think that I perform well, regardless of how I’m coached, but that’s not true. I contributed to both Richard and Joe, but I clearly pushed harder, longer and better for Richard, because he gave me the feedback I desired. Of that I have no doubt!
In a previous article we learned a metaphor called the Feedback Bucket. The feedback we receive, both positive and negative, goes into our Feedback Bucket. The problem is that life’s experiences drill holes in our buckets, so the feedback we receive leaks out over time. That’s why we need a constant amount of feedback each day to keep our bucket from running dry.
People with empty buckets behave differently than people whose buckets have recently received feedback. Empty buckets at work can lead to lower productivity, dishonesty, increased turnover, poor attendance, lower accuracy, poor customer service, and a less than caring attitude toward job responsibilities. Empty buckets at home can lead to spouses seeking fulfillment elsewhere, and children seeking reinforcement from kids on the streets.
The power of supportive feedback is incredible! A phrase every person should memorize is: “A behavior rewarded (with supportive feedback) tends to be repeated.” At work and at home, when you see a behavior you like or one that leads to desired results, it is vital that you reinforce the behavior with a carefully worded feedback statement.
Over the last few weeks, we looked at the methods of using corrective feedback to change behavior. It’s important to develop effective techniques, because perceived criticism in interpersonal relationships has such negative consequences. We learned that on occasion behavior change can be accomplished with supportive feedback, especially if the person’s Feedback Bucket is low. A second technique is to use a series of focused questions that direct the person to suggest a change in their own behavior. And the third technique is to use an assertive statement that specifically describes the needed behavior changes.