You Might Be Failing At Feedback, Here's Why

From retros to 1 on 1s, your ability to give feedback is what makes you a good leader. But simply giving constructive feedback often isn’t what’s going to help you effectively lead and improve team performance. If you think it’s about how often you coach, mentor, advise or opine, think again.

Levi Goertz
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October 30, 2020

As leaders, we’re taught to give feedback, feedback and more feedback. You might think every time you give a piece of constructive feedback you’re helping others and being a good leader. 

Truth is, you’re measuring the success of your feedback all wrong. It’s not about how many times you comment or call things out, but if and how well team members process your feedback and deem it helpful. 

It’s time to face the facts and save yourself from feedback failure. To have your team consider your feedback as truly helpful, you need a) social license for them to believe you genuinely care for them, and b) that your feedback is on stuff they actually care about.

Getting this right is crucial. If you don’t, bracing yourself for deaf ears won’t be enough. Consider your relationships on the rocks as resentment can brew and erode them over time.

You’ve lost the social license to give feedback

Pre-pandemic, opportunities to build rapport, empathy and trust with your team were constant - coffee chats, hallway catch-ups and trading high-fives. Being part of these interactions establishes human connection, making constructive points easier to digest.

In effect, these interactions let your colleagues see you as a real person with their best interests at heart vs. a videoscreen boss focused strictly on business. This, in essence, gives you the social license not only to critique, but for it to be received well.

If you haven’t kept up all these positive interactions while remote, you need to act quickly. Losing social license breeds risks of eliciting defensiveness or damaging relationships when you give critical feedback. This is where it can come off as obnoxious aggression rather than caring help.

It’s time to rebuild your social license to better support your team before it’s too late. Focus on rebuilding with attention, sharing openly and setting aside time for personal connection:

  1. Being vulnerable matters, so start with your own learning goals
  2. Practice asking for feedback before offering it
  3. Ask each team member what they’re trying to improve and which areas they’d like feedback
  4. Don’t treat connecting on topics outside of work as small talk - treasure these moments to bond and strengthen your relationships

You’ll need candor, care and creativity to succeed

Avoid the pitfalls of failing at feedback by tightening your loop. You want your outputs to be feeding back into a system of candid criticism, genuine care and creativity to achieve growth and change.

  • Go for acceptance over quantity: Feedback is critical, but what matters is how much is accepted and understood, not how much is given.
  • Break down digital barriers: The stressful environment of remote work makes it less likely your feedback will be accepted, so get creative with ways to virtually connect.
  • Being human comes first: Deeply invest in trust building so your team knows you care about them. This’ll help encourage them to accept and appreciate what you have to say.
  • Trust in the 5:1 ratio: Aim for 5 pieces of positive feedback for every constructive comment. And be specific - a “Great job” won’t resonate as much as “Great job on such a concise summary and then giving evidence with easy to read visuals”.

So stop focusing on giving opinions often and start listening to what feedback matters to others so you can build social license with acknowledgment and praise. Leading this way will transform your constructive feedback to be not just accepted, but also desired.

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