Feedback At Workplace — The Fallacy

We are told to give candid feedback at work.

We have been taught several ways to give and receive feedback.

We have been told that feedback helps us to do better and to grow in our careers.

We are told that we are poor judges of ourselves. You cannot see for yourself. You need a mirror. A second-person observation will help us to unearth our strengths and weaknesses. The person giving feedback can identify our hidden biases and suggest ways to overcome them.

We are also told that feedback can guide us to view our strengths from a different perspective and help us to discover unique ways to leverage them. It increases our clarity and focus.

However, for the last few months, I’ve been questioning several defaults in life.

And…. Is the feedback useful? Do people give right feedback?

It’s About Me, Not them — Marcus Buckingham writes that Feedback is about telling people what we think of their performance and how they should do it better. Is it not subjective?

Research shows that our decisions are influenced by our hidden, inherent biases, childhood environment, hormones, genes, and so on. And, the same things influence our feedback about others.

Marcus Buckingham writes, “Your feedback to others is always more about you than them. It reflects you.” In that scenario, how can the feedback be useful?

The Poor Raters — Studies also show that humans are poor raters of other humans, particularly on abstract attributes — business acumen, assertiveness or particular competency, strategic thinking, potential, political savvy, and so on. Marcus says, “Our ratings reflect our characteristics, not his. Feedback is more of a distortion than truth.”

Emoticon Copyright:: VectorStock

Feedback On Our Feelings — Take the following example —

Feedback from a manager — “It’s clear you’re excited about the project. But sometimes, when you get excited, you don’t leave room for others to bring their ideas to the table.

The emotion “Excited” is a subjective feeling. It also varies from culture to culture and person to person.

Lisa Feldman Barrett writes, “Emotions are not universal. They vary from culture to culture. Emotions are not triggered. You create them. They emerge as a combination of the physical properties of your body, a flexible brain that wires itself to whatever environment it develops in, and your culture and upbringing, which provide that environment.”

Your brain uses past experience, organized as concepts, to guide your actions and give your sensations meaning. Our past experiences unconsciously influence our behaviour. It means that a person giving feedback has no idea about the real reason behind your behavior. Similarly, the person’s past experiences might influence his feedback.

Culture Influence — Let’s see how culture can influence our thoughts — Take an example of “Influence of “Pause” in a Simple Conversation”

Deborah Tannen writes in her HBR article “Who Gets Heard” —

The conversation is an enterprise in which people take turns: One person speaks, then the other responds. However, this apparently simple exchange requires a subtle negotiation of signals so that you know when the other person is finished and it’s your turn to begin. Cultural factors such as country or region of origin and ethnic background influence how long a pause seems natural.

When Bob, who is from Detroit, has a conversation with his colleague Joe, from New York City, it’s hard for him to get a word in edgewise because he expects a slightly longer pause between turns than Joe does. A pause of that length never comes because, before it has a chance to, Joe senses an uncomfortable silence, which he fills with more talk of his own. Both men fail to realize that differences in conversational style are getting in their way. Bob thinks that Joe is pushy and uninterested in what he has to say, and Joe thinks that Bob doesn’t have much to contribute.

Similarly, when Sally relocated from Texas to Washington, D.C., she kept searching for the right time to break in during staff meetings — and never found it. Although in Texas she was considered outgoing and confident, in Washington she was perceived as shy and retiring. Her boss even suggested she take an assertiveness training course.

Thus slight differences in a conversational style — in these cases, a few seconds of pause — can have a surprising impact on who gets heard in the meetings and on the judgments, including psychological ones, that are made about people and their abilities.”

To conclude — It’s really hard to know the real reasons behind the behaviors of our colleagues. Our feedback is more about our own feelings and experiences, our own reactions.

So, how to give feedback when somebody asks us?

Marcus Buckingham writes, “We can tell someone whether his voice grates on us; whether he’s persuasive to us; whether his presentation is boring to us. We may not be able to tell him where he stands, but we can tell him where he stands with us. Those are our truths, not his. This is a humbler claim, but at least it’s accurate.”

Marcus Buckingham shares some examples on the right way to help your colleagues —

So, while giving feedback, tell how you viewed the situation from your perspective — how you felt — how your mind thought in that scenario.

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Reference:: The above content is from the HBR article “The Feedback fallacy” by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall.

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