Would You Rather Climb a Mountain or Provide Someone Feedback?

Woman climbing mountain

If climbing a mountain is more desirable than providing a person with difficult feedback, you are not alone. Feedback is one of the most valuable culture and behavior-supporting actions leaders and co-workers can provide to one another. However, providing meaningful and accurate feedback is not always easy, especially in instances when we must provide difficult or corrective feedback.

The media has historically portrayed (even celebrated) feedback as cold, abrupt, and nasty from tough-talking bosses. However, feedback can be a warm and compassionate experience that strengthens teams and builds trust. So why do we fear it so much?

Feedback is tricky. On one hand, many people enjoy hearing words of appreciation or even praise, but on the other hand, we seem to believe that feedback which is critical in nature is a bad thing. Many of us waiver on providing clear, accurate, and timely feedback because our ego gets in the way, and I can appreciate that – it’s tough. We want to be liked but more importantly, I think we want to not hurt the other person. What might make providing feedback easier for you? Would it be helpful to know that the person wants to know it, whether good or bad?

When I do workshops on feedback or difficult conversations, I explore our assumptions, beliefs, and values. It is interesting to hear how people respond to “what makes providing feedback difficult?” People frequently cite fear, not having confidence, not wanting to damage the relationship, etc. However, when I ask, “do you value or appreciate receiving feedback” they often respond with “yes,” and “of course.” Then I press the question further, “even critical feedback” and after a brief pause the group usually responds with “yeah, I want to know when I am not doing something correctly or well.” This makes sense, doesn’t it? Don’t you take pride in your work, and you want to make improvements, where/when possible? The good news is that most of us want to know when we need to make changes or improvements (when delivered respectfully) and that providing feedback is a skill, which will continue to develop (become easier) over time.

The following are a few things to keep in mind as you work towards providing more meaningful and frequent feedback:

  • First off, feedback must be timely (close to the event/action that needs addressing) and specific (directly to the person in a private, respectful setting – we must do away with the large group general corrective feedback when the message needs to be directed to one or a select group of people).
  • People frequently state they want to know when they aren’t doing their work correctly. They want to do a good job and feedback helps them make necessary improvements.
  • The level of cultural health and the quality of the relationship between the provider and recipient will buy grace for even the most difficult conversations.
  • Write down the feedback you want to provide and bring that note to the meeting. It is ok to be nervous and even make mistakes while providing feedback. Most people will respect the fact that this may be difficult for you. And, the good news is the more often you have difficult conversations, the easier it is.
  • People may get very defensive, and even angry. However, I’ve found that even in the angriest situations, those that are committed to the success of the organization and their team will reflect upon the feedback and they will eventually embrace it and even thank you for “calling them out.”
  • Lastly, there is no better time than today to start providing feedback.