Don’t make these feedback mistakes

You know how it goes. Someone said or did something that has got you annoyed. Or upset. Or angry. Or bitter.

There’s great opportunity here, if we handle the feedback delivery well. The opportunity is to clear frustrations, clarify expectations, or mend relationships.

Many leaders miss the opportunity with the following feedback mistakes.

1.    Using it as a weapon
If we react out of hurt, we can turn aggressive or passive aggressive. We can use feedback as a means of smacking people over the head with our ‘You better not do this again’ message. 

Check your intention before approaching others. Do you want to mend bridges or lob grenades?

2. Letting the emotion do the talking
If we combine emotion with the weight of authority, we have one terrifying experience for the recipient. As leaders, what we say and do is more visible and carries more weight to those we work with. Emotional critique from a leader can be experienced as a real survival threat by others.

Check you are not a lit fuse of an aimed canon.

3. Labelling people
As humans, we are sense makers. We default to patterns and inference as shortcuts for our thinking. This is not helpful when we label people. Things like, ‘That’s such a Gen Y thing to do’ or ‘She’s a bully’ or ‘He’s a private school spoiled brat.’

These categorisations are lazy and create disconnect with the other person as a human being.

Check you are not deflecting your own emotions by labelling the other person as defective in some way. 

4. Not planning it
Feedback offers us the chance to explore perspective. If we do not plan our approach and message, we risk making things worse. You’ll know this is your mistake if you catch yourself saying ‘That didn’t come out right’ or ‘I didn’t mean it that way.’

Check your message before you share it.

5. Not giving it
This is the most common mistake. We hold back on saying anything because we hold on to our wounds. It’s like we are seven years old again and we have been knocked in the playground. We either knock back (see mistake 1) or sulk, hiding from the source of pain.

We can also hang on to our hurts because of the weird tendency to feel powerful as a victim: ‘I’m right, you’re wrong’. We puff our chests in self-righteousness and nurse our perceived injuries as a badge of validation.

Then we start to make up stories about why the other person behaved in such a way (see mistake 3), which leads to spiralling emotions (see mistake 2), and then we go off like a firecracker (see mistake 1 and mistake 4).

Check why you are hesitating and decide to take action.

What mistakes do you see in feedback? What steps do you take to make sure it is a useful experience for both parties?