This blog post is part of our Truity at Work series for those who are new to people management. In these posts, we’re creating useful content for managers and teams alike, helping you to understand personality, improve communication, and navigate conflict and change with ease. For an overview of the series, start with our introductory post here.
For a new manager, feedback can feel like a bit of a curse. You know you’re responsible for helping people improve, but feedback makes everyone feel bad. And it can have limited impact to boot! But if you don’t let people know what isn’t working, how will anyone improve?
It is not surprising that some managers focus on giving positive feedback only, or avoid giving feedback altogether, even if that leads to a lot of frustration all round.
Let’s take a deeper dive into what feedback is and how different personality types approach feedback. Then, I’ll offer you an alternative that works better.
What is feedback?
Many of us think we know what feedback is. Often, it’s being told that our work isn’t acceptable or as good as we hoped it to be. But there’s more to feedback than that. Let’s look at four different kinds of feedback and the impact they can have on people.
Positive feedback focuses on praising and recognizing what someone does well. It reinforces desired behaviors and can improve morale and engagement.
Developmental feedback focuses on improving behavior and what a person could do differently.
Negative feedback is unnecessarily harsh and critical, especially if delivered when stressed or upset. It can reduce self-esteem, motivation and lead to lower performance.
Giving no feedback, because a leader is too busy, doesn't think it necessary, or wants to avoid a difficult conversation, can also reduce motivation and engagement.
Think back to a time when you were on the receiving end of all four kinds of feedback. And reflect on the following:
- Did it increase or decrease your motivation?
- Did your work product get better or worse?
- Did it improve your skills?
- Did it increase or decrease your trust in your boss/colleagues?
- How did the trajectory of your career change based on that feedback?
Feedback can have a very powerful impact on people’s careers - whether it's positive, negative, developmental or zero.
Your personality influences your feedback style
Based on the options above, you likely have a preference for the way you approach feedback with your staff. Using the Temperaments for guidance, see if the following aligns with your personality type:
Artisans (xSFPs and xSTPs) focus on what’s working or not working right now, as it pertains to the immediate goals. They prefer to provide regular, quick, informal feedback that can be applied immediately.
Guardians (xSFJs and xSTJs) focus on providing structured feedback as per the company’s performance feedback schedule. They usually provide positive feedback accompanied by developmental feedback.
Rationals (xNTPs and xNTJs) can fall into the trap of thinking positive feedback is redundant and unnecessary. They tend to focus on developmental feedback to improve performance.
Idealists (xNFps and xNFJs) provide staff with a lot of positive feedback, but can struggle with giving development feedback that they perceive as critical or negative.
Thinking about some recent experiences of giving feedback to your staff or other colleagues; how does it align with your personality type? How does it differ?
Feedforward: A better alternative
Shifting to a new way of giving feedback requires us to challenge our assumptions about what feedback is. When we only think about feedback as being “told what we did wrong,” we get stuck on the following assumptions, that:
- It has to be negative
- It has has to be a one-way directive
- It has to be about past work
- It has to be judgmental
- It focuses on mistakes or failures
This assumes it can’t be:
- A two way conversation
- About future work
- Focus on what’s going well
Doesn’t that sound like a conversation you want to be a part of? When we see feedback as a two way conversation, where employees generate their own ways for improving their future work while also acknowledging what’s working, that’s a recipe for a great place to work.
But I hear you wondering: is it effective? Does it lead to higher performance? Is it a good use of my time? If I am not telling them what’s not working, how will they know?!
When done well, feedforward removes the defensiveness that can come with feedback. We no longer need to argue about who’s right or wrong. No one needs to prove their worth, worry about their job, or whether their boss has it out for them.
It covers the same material as feedback, in an even more time efficient way, especially when you add in the time people waste feeling anxious or defensive about the feedback.
So how does it work? As a manager, instead of thinking of yourself as the person who has to judge others, think of yourself as the coach or guide whose job is to get the best from your employees. Focus on asking the following questions and listening to the answers.
“What is your goal for this task/project?”
Whether you are at the start of a new project or reviewing how the past one went, start with this question. Focus on how they want to improve. Identify a skill or talent they want to develop or improve for themselves, as well as any stretch goal they have for the other elements of the project. Aim to have a specific answer before moving on.
“What ideas do you have to do this?”
Encourage the team member to generate different ideas or approaches for how they could achieve the goal. Focus on what they could do in the future, rather than on what did or didn't work in the past.
At this stage, your role isn’t to offer suggestions or to pass judgment on their ideas, but to listen with an open mind to each suggestion and encourage them to come up with others.
If they ask you for suggestions based on your experience, feel free to give them, but keep them future focused and positive.
“Which one or two of those do you want to prioritize?”
Keeping the employee’s talents and potential in mind, discuss which of the options would help them achieve the goal and reach their potential. Help them create practical, tangible strategies that can apply in the near future to achieve their goals in a way that aligns with the team’s or organization's goals.
“How can I support you?”
Employees always need our support to achieve their goals, but it's not always the kind of support we ourselves would need or want. Being on the same page about how our employees need us to support them to be the best can save everyone a lot of time and worry.
“With that clarity and focus, how are you feeling?”
Wrap up the conversation by checking in on how the employee is feeling about the goal, strategy and the future. Whether they feel nervous, worried or excited, this is a good opportunity to assess what’s happening beneath the surface and whether anything else needs to be addressed before moving on.
“Thank you for your openness.”
Finally, acknowledge your staff member for participating in the conversation in an open and honest way. Provide praise and recognition for any behaviors you specifically want to reinforce and see more of in the team.
It can be hard to switch over from feedback to feedforward. It takes some practice to shift an ingrained habit in that way. Start by checking your assumptions around feedback and the best way to develop your team. Then practice this approach with people in your team you feel more comfortable with.
You will also need to tailor your approach to those who are doing well, versus those who are struggling. Higher performers who are improvement oriented can take to this approach very quickly. Whereas those who aren't doing as well, or are quite stressed, can need more support to become more goal oriented and think of ways to improve. In this situation you may need to provide more structure and support, but aim to keep it positive and future focused.
Using this tool will help you build a positive working environment and a high performing team. It just takes practice and maybe a small leap of faith.
Ready to give feedforward that motivates? Head over to the Truity at Work Platform. You’ll find a range of easy-to-use personality assessments, specifically tailored to the workplace, to help you and your team be more effective. Get started with just a few clicks.