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?”


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.

People Say (and do) the Darndest Things

Some of the funniest, saddest, most surprising things get shared during workshops I facilitate.  Over the last month, here is a sampling of some of the things I’ve heard:

1.  During a time management workshop, a participant shared this story.  She was having problems with her computer, a member of the IT department was there taking a look at it, and because he was there, she asked if he would help move the computer to another area of the desk in order to work more efficiently. He kindly agreed to do so.  Later that day, she was called in to her manager’s office for a disciplinary meeting.  She had not asked for permission, in writing, to move the computer. Forms needed to be completed, signed off and then forwarded to another department for approval before assignment to a member of the IT team.  After demonstrating how the new format would help make her more efficient, she was allowed to keep the computer where it was … but the reprimand stayed in her employee file.

2.  A manager shared that a co-worker came to her office, dumped some papers on her desk and said “My time is too valuable to spend on this.  You do it.”  Ouch … really?

3.  And to end with a little chuckle … A sales coordinator provided a very welcome humor break during one session.  He shared that one of the regional sales managers needed some reports from their CRM and asked him if he could “copulate the report”.  He was so taken aback he thought perhaps he had the meaning of copulate wrong so he Googled it and nope … he was right!  It was an email request; it’s in writing. I’m guessing the sales manager meant populate.  Oops.

Do you have any “People Say (or do) the Darndest Things” stories to share?  We’d love to hear them.