Out of the Mouths of Babes
When my older daughter was not quite three, I was giving her a bath before we headed off to church one Sunday morning. In the midst of bubbles and squeaky toys, she announced to me that she would be wearing a dress to church that day. I confirmed her fashion aspirations, to which she added, "Mommy is wearing a dress to church, too." Not really sure where this wardrobe-inspired conversation was headed, I replied that I thought her forecast was correct. Then with extreme scrutiny, she eyed me over and simply summarized, "Daddy, you don't have the legs for a dress."
And there it was, the stinging truth about my body from my daughter. Most two-year-olds would make an innocent generalization that daddies don't wear dresses. Mine felt the urge to add color commentary. It's one of those funny stories that lives in the folklore of our family now, but it brings up some great points about providing feedback.
In many of our jobs, providing (and receiving) feedback in a professional manner is critical to our relationships, to our progress, and to the spirit of Carpe Factum. I've learned some lessons (some of them the hard way) about the do's and don't's of providing feedback. Really, all you have to do in providing feedback is remember the acronym THIRD. Ask yourself the following:
- Is your feedback TIMELY? If you cannot provide feedback to a colleague in a timely fashion, then you are robbing them of opportunities to make course corrections and fix things. Some of the biggest corporate criminals are those who hoard feedback about an employee and dump it all on them once a year in that sadly comical event known as the "annual performance review." Feedback has a shelf life, and the sooner you can tell the person what s/he did right or wrong, the stronger the message will be. Still, there is a time and a place for providing feedback, and if you can tell that the person is not in the right mindset to hear what you have to say, consider holding off a while.
- Is your feedback HONEST? There's a fine line balancing tact and forthrightness. I've seen managers water down feedback to the point where the original message is totally lost... because they do not want to upset the other person. Certainly, there are people whom I must handle with "kid gloves" because of their sensitivity, but I try to ensure the message gets through.
- Is your feedback IMPROVING? Does your message provide constructive criticism or are you only trying to hurt the other person and make them feel bad? In twelve years of teaching college courses, I've only had one course review that I considered just ugly. Don't get me wrong, there have been students throughout who have not liked some aspect of the course or my teaching and have provided suggestions on how to improve. This one was a purely personal attack on me and my family (they even included my dog... how "witch of the west"), and they ended by saying they didn't learn a thing about management. How sad for them... and for the people they'll work with. Provide feedback in the spirit of improvement... not for tearing down.
- Is your feedback RELEVANT? I've seen laughable feedback provided to people that has no meaning to the bottom line or to their personal values. My first job out of college was with a major insurance company. If they did not like an individual, supervisors were coached to fabricate "areas of improvement." One woman in my group of new employees shared that her supervisor dinged her for making her checkmarks backwards. Is the individual going to care about your feedback? If not, maybe you should keep your feedback to yourself.
- Is your feedback DIRECT? Few things irritate me more than hearing, "Some people came to me and asked me to share some things with you...." Anonymous lynch mobs have no room in our professional settings. While there are avenues for providing anonymous feedback (class evaluations, for one), playing the game of telephone to provide feedback robs the receiver of context, and it undermines relationships. When I provide feedback, there are times I must decide if it's going to be one-on-one or if other people need to be involved. Urgency and the role of the others are factors in deciding how to approach this delicate issue.
So there you have it... bump up the quality of your feedback by a THIRD. We'll all be happier in the long run. Now... about my legs...