Three Well-Meaning Feedback Phrases to Avoid

donthearyouEmployee feedback is important.  Just as important is how we provide that feedback. As managers, it is our role to build, support and encourage. Three well-meaning phrases I used to use and have eliminated are:

“If it was me, …”:  

“If it was me, I would have said …”.  “If it was me, I would have made …”.

The problem with “if it was me” is … it wasn’t you!  “If it was me” tends to be used in conversations when someone, somewhere did not act or speak in a manner approved by the speaker. “If it was me” doesn’t acknowledge:

  • Different view points, methodologies or perspectives
  • The other person’s experience or lack of experience
  • The possibility that perhaps it was you who failed by not providing adequate tools, training or resources
  • What the individual did right

“If it was me” slams the door on conversations that could provide valuable information and insight.  Instead of saying “if it was me”, try:

  • What worked well?
  • Is there something you could do differently that would result in a better outcome?
  • Why did you try that?
  • Is there a reason …?
  • Was there something about the situation that made you uncomfortable?
  • Is there something I can do to help you?

There is no one just like you.  Get past you and focus on them.

You’re doing a great job, but …

Generally one of two things happen when this phrase is used. The employee immediately forgets the great job part as soon as you say ‘but’ and starts holding their breath, waiting for the bad news, or they stop listening when they hear ‘you’re doing a great job’.

Instead of trying to combine the good and the constructive all in one sentence, focus on successes and criticism separately.  It’s not that you can’t share both successes and areas where improvement is required in one meeting; just don’t combine them in one sentence.

And please, don’t only share the good stuff in an effort to soften the blow of of constructive feedback. You don’t want your team members to cringe every time they hear ‘good job.’

Good job

What does good job mean?

Instead of saying “good job”, be specific about what your employee is doing well.  Did he or she manage an unhappy company with grace and skill? What in particular was done well? Focusing on and sharing highlights and specifics is so much more meaningful than an off the cuff ‘good job.’

You don’t need to go into a long laundry list of each and every thing that was done well. That comes across as pandering or condescending.  Look for and then share specific areas of success and tie it back to how it helps the employee, the team, the company or the customer.

These are three phrases I have learned to avoid or adapt. Are there some phrases you no longer use?  Why and how have you changed them to be more effective?

Timely Feedback is not just for Millennials

An article on Business Insider (read it here) starts off with with the comment “If you have millennials working for you, don’t wait for the annual performance review to unload all your praise and criticism on them.”

Partially true, except timely feedback applies to everybody you have working for you, regardless of which generational segment they happen to fall in.

Allowing an employee to perfect incorrect or sub-standard performance over a long period of time is absurd. Ignoring the behaviour until the annual performance review tacitly condones it, plus it’s much  more difficult to change ingrained behaviour.

When you catch someone doing something right, say so. Thank them, acknowledge them and be specific about what they are doing right.  The praise needs to be sincere.  It’s not about constant pats on the head, which is condescending, but instead about recognizing positive contribution.

Also, it may be the Pollyanna in me, but I much prefer to think of feedback as positive or constructive. Criticism is such a negative word.  Criticism focuses on unacceptable performance.  Constructive feedback acknowledges the skill, knowledge or attitude that requires improvement, then focuses on how and why the change is necessary.  How will the individual, the team, the customer and the company benefit? What steps / resources will help the employee be successful?

I found an excellent article about feedback on a website targeting educators. (Read it here.)  The article made me think “Hmmm .. what if we thought of ourselves as educators, responsible for providing the tools, the training and the coaching our team needs to successfully graduate to qualified service professional?”


Why do People Stay with Poor Leaders?

Across Canada, the top curling teams in the country were competing for the opportunity to represent their province in the national championship to be held in March.  My husband is a curler and the team he curls with once again made it to the provincial championship.  Unfortunately, their quest ended earlier than they had hoped and we ended up watching games together in the comfort of our living room, instead of on the cold benches of an arena.

As we were watching various games and highlights from around the country, I was struck by the different leadership styles demonstrated by the skips.   All of the teams are there for one reason; win the provincials and get to the nationals. They all got to that level because of a lot of hard work, a lot of skill and a very competitive nature.  And yet, how they handled their moments of pressure and their moments of frustration when a shot or opportunity was missed, varied widely.

The slamming of brooms, kicking of rocks and swearing was down this year due to new rules put in place, but some skips seemed to let each missed shot or opportunity eat at them.  Their disappointment was clearly evident and they seemed unable to put the last missed shot or opportunity behind them.  Other skips encouraged a team member when a shot was missed and immediately focused on new options.

In some cases, after a lost game, the skip blamed his team for the loss.  In other cases, the skip would say things like “We missed some key shots” or “I was having trouble reading the ice.”

Of course, poor leadership is not limited to sports.  There are people who go to work every day and treat the people that they work with poorly. They demand perfection and when perfection is not attained, they get angry and frustrated. When their team does not meet goals or targets, they blame the team and take no responsibility for the failure.

Knowing this, I have to ask “Why do some people stay when their team leader is negative, confrontational and only accepts glory, but no blame?” I’m stumped.  What do you think? Why do they stay?

What to do when the Feedback Hurts

Leadership involves asking for, and willingly listening to, feedback.

Asking for comments, suggestions and insight from team members on what’s working and what’s not is important for two reasons:

1.  It provides leaders new information and perspective.

2.   It creates an inclusive atmosphere where people feel valued.

Of course, that only works if the ask is followed by a willingness to listen, respond and act on the feedback provided.

Perhaps the most difficult part of accepting feedback is keeping an open mind when the feedback is unexpected, negative or delivered poorly.  The following steps help process that feedback.

1. Don’t get defensive or allow personal biases to interfere with the message.

2. Take some time to evaluate.  Asking for feedback doesn’t automatically mean it must be accepted.  It is a resource for consideration and  evaluation.

3. Respond.  When there is no response to feedback, apathy and resentment flourish.  People start wondering why leaders bothered asking, why they bothered responding and the next time they are asked, they won’t respond.

And finally, asking for feedback because a book or blog said that’s what leaders do is not a reason to ask.  Real leaders don’t ask unless they want a truthful answer, even if the truth hurts.