Feedback: The Gift No One Wants?

intentional practices roles and responsibilities the board/ceo partnership Jun 13, 2022


Last year I wrote a short column on the importance of feedback and reframing feedback as advice.


I mentioned that a colleague once told me that feedback is somewhat akin to getting a gift from your in-laws: you have no choice but to accept it – and graciously at that – but what you did with it afterward was really up to you – display it, work and play with it, use it from time to time, stuff it under the bathroom counter to be brought out only when necessary, toss it out with the trash…


Most of us find it very challenging to give feedback.

We get nervous and anxious when asked for it. Feedback creates a critic.

But we love being asked for advice. It is flattering!

Now feedback can be positive or negative. But it needs to be actionable.

And asking for advice is asking for the action steps to get better.

Feedback can often lead to an adversarial relationship as one proposes and the other defends.

But advice can create a partner or strengthen a partnership.


So don’t give feedback; give advice.


But there are a few critical components to consider:

  1. Set the stage.
  2. Frame the conversation.
  3. Recognize feedback as essential communication.
  4. Be open to receiving feedback.
  5. Develop a culture for feedback.


Set the stage.

Feedback should be about just that: feedback! So it means both praise and criticism; it means recognizing behaviours that made a difference, both big and small.

Remember the aphorism: Praise in public, criticize in private… (recognizing some do not prefer public recognition).


But, if we are talking about criticism:

Question your assumptions. Don’t assume motive or a longstanding pattern unless you have evidence.

Avoid guessing the reasons behind the behaviour.

Double-check your facts. Beware of hearsay.

Stay balanced – also focus on the positive if you can.

Remember, it has already happened – you can’t undo or redo it, whatever “it” is. You can only work to ensure that it doesn’t happen again, most likely through advice and encouragement than threats and intimidation.


Frame the conversation:

Understand and manage your fears.

You don’t want to unnecessarily upset this individual.

You don’t want to damage the relationship unnecessarily.

And if you are like most of us, you don’t exactly relish confrontation.


Avoid a knee-jerk reaction. Take some time if necessary.

Remember: you are providing advice and providing an opportunity to learn and grow. You are likely vested in this person’s success.

Assume the best you can.


Plan what you will say,

Consider questions to clarify: help me understand why…

Focus on the behaviour, not the person.

Feedback can be offered as advice. It can also be provided as a request. Be clear about what behaviour you expect.

You can take the negative behaviour and make your feedback a request that clarifies what behaviour you would like from the other person.

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Recognize feedback as essential communication.

Feedback is a form of communication. We need to receive feedback from others. And others need feedback from us. Indeed, 50% of performance problems are attributable to a lack of feedback… Conversely, lack of feedback is a significant source of employee dissatisfaction and an issue in retention.


If we are talking about Board Chair and Chief Executive Officer, determine how often, when and where you plan to meet. Weekly? Monthly? In-person? Via telephone/video?


As I mentioned earlier, effective feedback is clear and actionable. It is descriptive, non-judgmental and focused on the behaviour, not the individual.


Let’s state the obvious. You are not offering and demanding a personality transplant, so, again, focus on behaviours that can be changed. Be constructive.


You want your feedback to be

  • situational (that is, the context is essential, there is a. Relationship between the two parties, there is a history of regular feedback, both positive and suggestions),
  • relevant (it is work-related and affects performance),
  • timely (it occurred in living memory! and the incidents are known to both parties),
  • thoughtful (offering advice or making a request, asking questions),
  • fast and focused (do not overload, do not trot out a year’s wort of grievances),
  • actionable (there are clear and reasonable steps outlined to achieve results, including possible sources of support), and thus,
  • forward-looking (this is an opportunity for learning and growth, provide some positive reinforcement if possible).


And you want your message to be aligned: words, tone, and body language match. Consider this carefully! Allow time for questions and discussion. How can “we” make this happen (you have responsibilities as a supervisor/coach, source of advice and support)?


Be open to receiving feedback.

Hey, feedback is good! Smile!


You want to be open to new ideas, new approaches.

You want to improve!

Of course, we accept feedback more readily from those we respect, but we have no choice but to accept it.


Consider a few questions and comments:


I hadn’t thought about that reaction.

What would your proposal look like?

Let me think about that for a few days. Let’s discuss this again at our next meeting.

How can we make that work?

It is a partnership, whether Chair/CEO or supervisor/employee.


So, accept feedback graciously and with respect. (Remember the in-law analogy!)


Listen. Be sure you hear and understand. Clarify, if necessary, without being defensive.


Think about what was said. Once more, remember the in-law analogy! Choose to use it or not (not all feedback may be helpful).


Recognize that you may be nervous… But you are receiving a possible path forward and a mirror to your performance, at least as perceived by significant others.


And in my next post:
Developing a culture for feedback.



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