In looking at what went wrong in my failed feedback sessions, I was able to bring it down to several key factors, as follows:
* My relationship with the recipient wasn’t trusting to a point where I could provide feedback safely.
* My perspective on the situation was wrong and I provided feedback inappropriately.
* I hadn’t learned how to give good, constructive, empathetic feedback.
When I was a young manager, I had a very experienced administrative assistant who worked with me. She was very competent in her job and did everything I needed very well. One thing that bothered me, though, was her workstation. She had stacks of paper all around her workstation. I, in my own naiveté, couldn’t understand how she could get things done with all that clutter so I offered her some feedback to clean up her workstation so she could be more effective. Bad move on my part. She got pretty ticked with me and asked me whether her workstation was affecting her ability to do her job. She was dead right and it took me a long time to re-build my relationship with her. My feedback was not steeped in fact, it was based on my perception of what I thought was right. Painful lesson.
You already have a strained relationship with the recipient – As desperately as you may be to provide feedback to a recipient, you may not have a trusting relationship built with the recipient to provide effective feedback. If you don’t have that trusting relationship, clam up on the feedback. If you’re not sure, ask a colleague who knows both you and the recipient and get his or her opinion.
You’re unsure of the facts – You may feel compelled to offer feedback, but if facts are sketchy do your homework first. You may find the feedback is legitimate, but you may also find the feedback isn’t warranted because the facts don’t support the need for feedback. Get clear on the facts before you formulate your feedback.
You’re not in an authoritative position to offer the feedback – A number of years back I offered some feedback to a colleague on his attitude in team meetings. He in no uncertain terms told me to stick it where the sun doesn’t shine and that because I was just a peer he wasn’t willing to listen to the feedback. My error in the situation was that I offered feedback to a colleague who didn’t see it as my place to offer the feedback because I wasn’t in an authoritative position and didn’t have a good enough relationship to offer peer feedback.
You’ve received feedback that you don’t give good feedback – You may feel compelled to offer feedback, but if you’ve received feedback that you aren’t effective at offering constructive feedback, resist the urge. Work on your own ability to give feedback with a colleague or friend first in “practice sessions” using some of the techniques I’ve highlighted in this book.
Sometimes the best feedback you can provide is no feedback at all. If your feedback will only be putting fuel on the fire because of strained relationships, unclear facts, or your own ability to deliver effective feedback, hold your tongue and let someone else do it. You’ll save yourself and your recipient a lot of stress and will keep from further deteriorating a relationship.