I recently came across an article, Leah Fessler’s “There’s an Optimal Time to Give Negative Feedback,” that piqued my interest… for several reasons.
As a leader and manager, I frequently find myself on the giving end of feedback – both positive and constructive. My business partner has noted how particularly adept I am at giving constructive feedback, an “opportunity” that often falls on me in our business dealings.
I must be honest, here – I do not look forward to this part of my job. On many occasions, I feel anxious prior to the conversation, and am usually glad when it is over. That said, in most instances, I am pleasantly surprised by how well it goes. That may be due to my efforts to bring a sense of compassion and empathy to these conversations.
When I am giving leadership instruction to organization leaders, I describe giving feedback as “managerial courage.” If you want to be an effective leader, you need to have this in your tool kit.
I’ve also written a lot lately about learning agility – finding yourself in a situation in which you have never been, not knowing what to do and figuring it out. Giving feedback – positive or constructive – is one of those unknown situations for many people, particularly those new to leadership roles.
Feedback Seeking happens to be one of the dimensions that is characteristic of people who are more learning agile. There are four ways they seek feedback: 1) Asking peers; 2) Asking supervisors; 3) Asking supervisors for feedback on their ability to take on new and different responsibilities in the future; and 4) In general, asking others how they might improve.
In any feedback scenario, there is a giver and receiver in the relationship. While working with a group recently in Asia , it was revealed that, of the nine dimensions of learning agility, feedback seeking was consistently the area most in need of improvement for each of these high-potential leaders.
As we discussed it, the leaders universally expressed that asking for feedback was not considered appropriate in their culture, one that values humility and modesty. Feedback Seeking, from that viewpoint, was seen as drawing attention to oneself or attempting to stand out from peers.
We did talk about “discussing” a recent project in terms of what went well and what could be improved, and they felt comfortable with leading this kind of discussion. Oh, by the way, this was a project they had led. The important thing to note here, though, is that asking for feedback is possible, even in a culture that discourages people from “seeking attention.”
Let’s go back to that article I mentioned, which focused on the feedback giver. In that article, Fessler cites recent research that suggests that 44 percent of managers find giving negative feedback (I call it constructive) stressful and difficult, and 20 percent avoid the practice altogether. And, this was a little surprising to me – 40 percent of leaders admit to not giving positive feedback, either.
Fessler cites research from Northwestern University, which explores whether there is an optimal time of day to give constructive feedback. The research touches on self-regulation – essentially, control of oneself by oneself in terms of emotion and temperament. This capability declines the more tired we are, which is typically over the course of the work day. Someone’s patience, for example, may be much higher in the morning than after a long day on the job.
The article also notes research from the University of Toronto that aimed to determine what kinds of people are more receptive to feedback, particularly the constructive or “negative” kind. The study found that those who have more self-control and more desire for self-improvement are the ones who are open to feedback.
People with less of these capabilities are more likely to deny the validity and importance of the feedback they are receiving. And, just like with giving feedback, the capacity to receive feedback declines the more worn out someone becomes.
The last reference cited by Fessler was from Harvard Business School’s Sheela Heen, who argues in her book, “Thanks for The Feedback,” that people want to learn and grow, which is an important component of happiness research. The problem is, people also want to be accepted and respected. So, there is a tension or a need for balance between these two dichotomies.
Are there better or worse times to give feedback? Earlier in the day seems to be better, and mornings are probably best. It shouldn’t be the minute the person walks in the door, of course.
And it’s important to be sensitive to what may be going on in a person’s work or personal life. At the same time, everyone always has something going on their lives, so, you could find reasons to avoid the feedback conversation forever. But, ultimately, you want to sit down with someone at a time when he or she is going to be most receptive to what you have to say.
Fessler’s article concludes with a helpful bit of advice from the Toronto research – combine positive feedback with constructive feedback. People like hearing what they are doing well and then may be more willing to hear how they can improve.
David Hoff is the chief operation officer and executive vice president for leadership development at E.A.S.I-Consult®. E.A.S.I-Consult works with Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and mid-sized corporations to provide customized Talent Management solutions. E.A.S.I-Consult specialties include individual assessment, online employment testing, survey research, competency modeling, leadership development, executive coaching, 360-degree feedback, online structured interviews, and EEO hiring compliance. The company is a leader in the field of providing accurate information about people through professional assessment. To learn more about E.A.S.I-Consult, visit www.easiconsult.com, email ContactUs@easiconsult.com or call 800.922.EASI.