3 Mistakes Leaders Make When Giving Feedback
Giving feedback, when done effectively, helps a sales manager become somebody their team looks up to, not just reports to. Feedback conversations need to happen regularly, and most leaders know it is an important part of their roles. Yet, Gallup research shows only two in 10 U.S. employees strongly agree that they have received meaningful feedback in the last week.
I contribute a large part of my success as a sales leader to the leaders and mentors I’ve had in my career, who gave me the (sometimes tough) feedback I needed to improve while honoring and respecting me as a professional and human being. They did so in a way that reduced any defensiveness I may have had and effectively brought about change in my behavior. Feedback and coaching conversations can certainly be a struggle, though. Throughout my career, I have seen or personally made several mistakes when delivering feedback.
Here are three mistakes you might be making when providing feedback to your team and how to fix or avoid them.
- Delaying the conversation.
It’s not uncommon for managers to spend a great deal of time talking or thinking about the impending coaching conversation that they don’t leave themselves enough time to have it. Or perhaps we loop in a counterpart or two to strategize how to approach the dialogue. Suddenly, two business days have passed, and we talk ourselves out of having the conversation. These are natural delay tactics or defense mechanisms because we don’t love having hard conversations.
- Not checking in to see if the recipient is in a position to receive the feedback – especially if and when it’s serious.
We all have bad days, and sometimes, no matter how hard we try, a bad morning can trail behind us for the duration of the day, impacting our mindset, performance, and ability to receive feedback. In his book, When They Win, You Win, established operational manager and author Russ Laraway shares a couple lines that managers can use to make sure it’s the appropriate time to have a feedback conversation.
- “I think I’m seeing some behavior that I believe is getting in your way. Are you in a spot where you can hear that right now?”
- “I have some coaching for you. It may be difficult for you to hear, and it is certainly difficult for me to say. Are you in a spot where you can hear that right now?”
Using an opener like this gives your team member the option to opt-out and schedule a better time to sit down for the discussion. It also avoids also excessive preamble and delay of conversation, as touched upon in the point above. It lets the team member know right away that a specific type of conversation needs to be had and prepares you both to have it.
- Thinking “I am right, and they are wrong.”
One of the more toxic things that can happen in a workplace is the desire to win and be right. Approaching a feedback conversation with this mindset is a huge mistake. Everyone who works for your organization is on the same team, even if someone royally messes up. Managers must approach a feedback conversation not with an “I’m right” mentality but rather with an intent to understand the employee’s perspective and find alignment on how to move forward.
Summary - How to Give Feedback
When a team member needs feedback or coaching, avoid spending too much time talking and thinking about the impending conversation and just have it. Often, with many things in life, the anticipation or idea in our head is much worse than the reality. Further, before giving feedback, set the stage with language like, “I think I’m seeing some behavior that I believe is getting in your way. Are you in a spot where you can hear that right now?” The goal is to avoid excessive preamble and allow you to say what you need to say efficiently and at an appropriate time for your team member. Follow a model to assist you when delivering your feedback, like Carew’s Coaching Model that we introduce in our Leadership Development workshops. And lastly, invite dialogue and aim to get your team member’s thoughts on the situation instead of believing you are right and they are wrong.
There are (unfortunately) no silver bullets here. Coaching conversations will likely always be a bit uncomfortable. However, avoiding these three mistakes and considering the tips above will reduce the defensiveness of the recipient, improve their behavior, and build trust and rapport between you and your team.