Dispelling Six Myths About Feedback

By: Josh

It all comes back to feedback.

I’ve written these words numerous times. Maybe even a few too many times. So much so, in fact, that when I departed my previous job two years ago, several direct reports on my team gifted me a going away plaque that captured many of my “infamous” leader quotes and themes. Top center of that plaque: “It all comes back to feedback.” At least it stuck!

But I keep coming back to this statement because I completely believe in it. 

Looking to improve your own self-awareness or performance? No development plan is complete without the inclusion of seeking and leveraging feedback.

Need to improve the performance of your team? Same.

This statement rings even truer because of how challenging giving, receiving, processing, and growing from feedback actually is. We must combine proven science with unique art to deliver feedback well to others. Just like any skill, we also need practice. We need to lean on grace, appreciation, and a growth mindset to receive feedback well and use it. Leaders have to normalize the inclusion of feedback into their routine interactions.

So, do you need to address some concerns within your team’s interpersonal dynamics, collaboration, cohesion, or performance? A lack of feedback in routine business is probably part of the problem. Moreover, feedback is also certainly part of the solution as well.

Bottom line: feedback is essential to your team’s success, but it is also incredibly challenging to address, integrate, and normalize. And yet, I believe that many of us (myself included) fall victim to a few common false assumptions about feedback and our development. These false assumptions – or myths – prevent us from tapping into the full power that feedback can have on our growth, both in self-awareness and performance.

We need to explore these myths to understand them, recognize them in our own thoughts and behaviors, and to make necessary adjustments in how we learn and lead to get the most out of the feedback that is already orbiting around us every day, ready for our use. It is an imperative for leaders to do so – for ourselves, for those we lead, and for our teams.

So, let’s look at these six myths about feedback and how we can address them.

Myth #1 – I’m Entitled to Feedback

Looking back in the early stages of my career, I found that I was behaving like a baby bird – simply sitting there waiting for someone to come give me feedback that I felt entitled to and thus expected. I believed I was owed it and didn’t have to put in any effort to get it.

But just as in so many things in life and leadership, no one owes you anything, to include feedback. Sure, our boss should give us feedback on our performance, and I would assert that as a boss, you should give it as well. But that does not abdicate us of responsibility. Feedback is a gift that others can provide, but we have to put some effort in to get it. We need to consistently seek out feedback, make it comfortable and normal for others to provide it, and we need to receive it with appreciation (remember, a gift) and show that we are doing something with it.

You are not entitled to or owed feedback. As a leader, you need to seek it out.

Myth #2 – I Should Only Receive Feedback from Certain People

In her book, Insight, Tasha Eurich introduces the interesting concept of a “loving critic” – someone that we know cares about us, we respect, and is willing to provide us with critical feedback with care. She claims these are the people that we should seek out and internalize feedback from.

But these are not the only people we should receive feedback from. Everyone around us, regardless of role or rank, has a valid perspective that can add value. Thus, leaders should be open to receiving feedback from anyone and everyone. If someone has insight, I want to hear it.

It is up to me what to do with it once I receive it, though. Once equipped with the feedback, I reflect on it, assessing its validity and value. Ultimately, I get to choose whether to accept the feedback and do something about it or not. However, as a leader, I should never prevent anyone from offering me feedback. If nothing else, it is an important signal to encourage others to continue to practice and normalize exchanging feedback within our team.

Myth #3 – Feedback Must be Packaged and Delivered Well for Me to Accept It

Feedback is sensitive and to improve how it lands with the person we are offering it to, we need to work to ensure it is packaged and delivered well. We need to handle our delivery with care and empathy, while doing so directly.

But, as the leader within the team, we should not expect the same from others. Being open to feedback to learn as well as role model for others calls us to be willing to receive feedback that may be poorly structured, articulated, and delivered (the manner it’s delivered to include the non-verbal methods). In line with myth 2 above, we should be willing to receive all feedback.

We have the responsibility, then, to process the feedback to discover any amounts of truth or validity in the comments regardless of how they are packaged and given (or who it comes from). Though we aim to package the feedback that we give others well, we are not guaranteed the same. We should focus on what is said, not how it is said, in the feedback we receive.

Myth #4 – Only Constructive Feedback Matters

When I seek out and receive feedback from others, I naturally tend to brush off positive comments thinking, “sure, great, thanks, but give me the real feedback that I can actually do something with to improve on.” Research mirrors this attitude, showing that workers believe that corrective feedback is most impactful to improving their performance. From the study, workers (57%) preferred corrective feedback over praise and recognition.

While this is true, however, still 43% of the study’s respondents preferred praise/recognition – that is not an insignificant population. This means that people still desire positive feedback.

Think about your team in respect to experience. Those with experience and expertise tend to seek constructive feedback to help them identify their remaining gaps for continued growth. However, novices with lesser experience tend to need encouragement and reinforcement to sustain their ongoing growth through the challenge of developmental experiences; they certainly benefit more from positive feedback over constructive.

In the end, though, leveraging positive feedback as a means to offer engagement, to show the impact that others are having through their work, and explicitly demonstrate how they are adding value is necessary. No matter the level of experience or expertise, we can all benefit from that type of encouragement every now and then. And really, who wants to work on a team where no positive feedback is shared? I believe positive feedback makes our team and organization a more enjoyable place to work.

Myth #5 – Feedback Must Be Tough and Brutal to be Effective

I don’t know about you, but if a boss or some person superior to me in our organization is providing me feedback in a harsh, tough, and brutal manner, I tend to focus on the person and thinking about why they are behaving this way instead of focusing on what they are actually saying (remember from myth 3 – the how vs. what). If delivered that way, I sometimes want to reject what they are saying because I feel that the person obviously does not care about me personally. I feel this is a common reaction for those in such situations.

Conversely, consider a scenario where someone is offering you constructive feedback. But it is done with genuine care for you as a worthy human being, compassion for the situation, curiosity for the overarching context, and ultimately a desire to make you and your collective team better. In this case, I am much more interested in what the other person has to offer. I not only know they care about me and our team, but they truly wish to make both better. I walk away from the exchange considering the value and validity of what they shared and even a bit more committed.

I see feedback as truth in love. It is a signal that says, “I care about you, I care about our team, and I want to see both get better – so I’d love to offer some important truth to make that happen.” Delivered in any other way, I sense that the feedback will fail to land well on the receiver.

Myth #6 – My Responsibility Ends with Giving Feedback to Others

As a leader or boss, it is easy to fall into the trap of believing that I owe those on my team with feedback and that my responsibility ends there. Through the feedback, I have fulfilled my leader obligations and it is up to them to figure out what to do with it.

Sure, there may be some truth in that. However, think of the difference between telling someone they are missing the mark (simply giving feedback) versus actually helping them to meet it. The former is a mere critic; the latter is a committed ally.

Think of it in the context of three questions: What? So what? Now what?

The first question addresses the feedback – what is the issue and what do they need to know? The second question helps them understand why this matters. But the last question is the critical last step of figuring out what to do about it. Leaders who value their people and pour into them should not stop at the first or even the second question. As an invested ally and caring leader, I believe we can and should help others through the last question of “now what?”

Closing Thoughts

Feedback is tough – to give, to receive, to use. But it is vital. No one – our team or ourselves alike – are going to grow without it. But, as we explored above, there are some common myths that we tend to assume are hurting the impact that feedback can have, both in our own development as well as what we can offer others for their development. Recognizing and addressing these myths can be an important step to better tapping into the potential power of feedback.

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