One of the most unique voices working in the business world today is Joanna Bloor. After spending more than 20 years at several prominent startups, including Pandora, OpenTable, and CBS Interactive, Bloor now uses her experience to help entrepreneurs and their teams become stronger and more collaborative. One of her primary focus areas is feedback.
In the business world, feedback is crucial for developing teams, but many people dread receiving it. Bloor asks why individuals cringe at the idea of getting feedback and how this perhaps reflects some wrongful assumptions among both individuals giving feedback and those receiving it. She argues that feedback needs to be conversational and reminds leaders not to focus just on the good things employees do, but the skills and attributes that facilitate their success.
The Problem with a Traditional Approach to Feedback in Business
Unfortunately, people tend to remember negative feedback more than positive. They may have a wide range of reactions to negative feedback, from dismissing it to internalizing it to the point where they feel like failures.
Negative feedback can make people feel deflated and cause them to withdraw from work responsibilities, especially if they perceive a lack of appreciation for what they do. Even when we take all the right steps when delivering feedback, such as giving a compliment first and softening the blow with encouraging language, the negative comments can have a tangible impact on employee productivity.
Part of the problem, says Joanna Bloor, is the view that there is always a right or wrong answer. As she explains, this worldview is pounded into us from the very start of school and throughout our lives. People delivering feedback often have good intentions, but they may be conditioned to see behavior as right or wrong. Meanwhile, employees who receive negative feedback can feel like they themselves are wrong. However, the world is rarely this black and white and, honestly, those delivering feedback may not always be right. For this reason, Bloor advocates for viewing feedback as a conversation between two individuals rather than as a one-sided judgment.
How to Take a More Conversational Approach to Business Feedback
What exactly does it mean to treat feedback as a conversation? First, you will need to share your intent. We provide feedback for a variety of different reasons, from trying to help an employee develop their career to addressing an action that may be disrupting workflow. That’s why it’s important to be clear about your intent—when the recipient understands the context, they will make fewer assumptions about what you are saying. Also, you should try to follow up later by asking the recipient what they heard and how they feel about the feedback. This extra step helps to avoid confusion and frustration.
The responsibility does not fall solely on the shoulders of the person giving feedback, however. Those who are receiving it can transform the interaction into a conversation by asking about intent as well as what is the expected outcome of the feedback.
Generally, people want to improve their performance, which is why they are willing to listen to feedback in the first place. Sometimes, it makes sense to get a second opinion and ask other people about their perception of the feedback, which can help to provide more nuance and depth to the comments. Keeping the conversation going transforms the interaction from one about right and wrong to one about simply growing as a professional.
Pitfalls to Avoid When Giving Positive Feedback to Team Members
Entrepreneurs also need to be careful about the ways in which they give positive feedback to their employees, especially the ones who stand out for their ability to get things done with little or no supervision. When you start to think of your rockstar employees merely as people who get things done, argues Joanna Bloor, you are underselling and undervaluing them. After all, telling someone that they are good at getting things done does not offer them anything constructive.
You will need to focus on articulating what you value in these employees so that they have a clear sense of their strengths. While productivity is important, praising it does not tell your employees how they can maintain their high output or even improve upon it.
Instead of focusing on the outcome of skills, you will need to figure out what drives those outcomes—think about critical thinking, problem solving, innovation, and other traits that can be developed. Too frequently, says Joanna Bloor, entrepreneurs focus on actionable items rather than thinking processes, while it is really the thought behind actions that make them successful.
Employees are not machines, and leaders need to recognize this by acknowledging the traits that lead to work products rather than those products themselves. Ultimately, when people know their strengths, they can work more effectively as part of a team and drive even more productivity.