Take the word feedback out of leading and coaching

Take the word feedback out of leading and coaching

I was in the business of broadcasting for 20 years before I become a coach. As a result, I also spent a lot of time at live concerts entertaining customers where I had a very different experience and interpretation of “feedback.” For three decades the word “feedback” described the screeching sound that occurs when electronic instruments are too close to the humongous concert sized speakers. Depending on the venue, the sound can cause even tough guys to put their hands over the ears.

Now I hear the word used and misused by leaders and even professional coaches as a way to open a dialogue, but the truth is, it doesn’t open anything. It shuts things down. Do you ever feel like holding your hand over your ears when someone offers you feedback? You know what that means, right? The next thing out of his mouth is going to be an opinion of what you have just done wrong. Feedback is a judgment and can leave even the strongest spirit disengaged.

Consider the Language:

“May I give you some feedback?”

“May I give you some feedback?” is a sneaky approach to lowering the hammer. You are not really asking permission and you really don’t care if they agree to the feedback. This is your agenda. Not a conversation starter. What happens if people just say “no, thanks?” I don’t care for your feedback right now. They never say anything other than, yes, because people want to be nice and inherently hate conflict. At some level we are all complicit to those in authority as if they have some magical power over us, other than position, so we say yes when we really mean “no way – why would I want to hear something negative after I just spent three weeks planning for this presentation and I get what I did that didn’t land well. What I really need right now is time to reflect and articulate how I feel about what I just did.”

When I see others offer feedback, I hear the screeching sound from the woofers and tweeters in my mind. I want to place my hand over their mouths and say… “NOoooooooooooooo! Don’t. You are the buzz kill when you do this!” They already know – we all do – what worked and what didn’t work. We just need time to park it and discuss what we might do differently and better in a similar situation.

Let’s distinguish feedback from observation.

If feedback implies a judgment, sharing an observation implies that you have an opinion and you have witnessed something that may or may not be true. It is simply your view. You own it and offer it, but you don’t throw it at someone who is not ready.

For example:

“I have seen you in action today and I have some observations. May I share those with you?”

That is a subtle change in how you approach others, but it invites a deeper exploration. The challenge is how to balance what you have observed so that you are not using the words as a weapon or a covert way of saying, ‘here comes some feedback you need to have right now’.

Perhaps an even better approach would be to set context prior to the field ride with the rep, the presentation to the board, the new hire training, a team building facilitation.

“Let’s determine the outcome you desire from this meeting. At the end of the meeting I will share observations if you agree, so that you understand immediately what I see that works well and have a place to discuss what you wish to change or do differently in the future.”

And then, you do that, based on your offer and the agreement.

It lands softer and opens the door for partnership. It allows you to build trust as someone who cares. Offering someone feedback immediately puts them on the defensive. If a coach approach is the way you want to lead and develop other then take the word feedback out of your vocabulary!

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