“The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism,” Norman Vincent Peale once said. Yet while this may be true at conservative rallies and online echo chambers, it’s a discredit to the vast majority of people.
If you do something wrong, would you prefer to recognize your mistake or continue in ignorance? Would you prefer to have the opportunity to correct it now or continue repeating it for the foreseeable future?
People want to grow. They want to improve. And they’re interested in feedback that will help them do that.
When employees evaluate their manager, feedback quality is one of the biggest factors. In one study, 81% of those who rated their manager poorly also said they didn’t receive enough feedback. For those who ranked their manager well, this number dropped to 17%.
I’m guessing you already know this. Maybe not the specific study percentages, but it doesn’t take a genius to correlate good management with good feedback. It’s obvious to anyone who’s ever had a job.
And yet, it’s a major problem. Most employees aren’t satisfied with the quality or quantity of their feedback. Too many people don’t get the opportunity to improve and grow.
Making claims that people prefer to be ruined by praise don’t help. It lets us off the hook. It gives us yet another excuse.
And the last thing we need is more excuses.
Behaviors Don’t Improve on Their Own.
We tell ourselves that we’re making it easier on the other person. We say that we’re giving them a break. We don’t want to make them feel bad.
We tell ourselves this.
And deep down, we know its complete BS. It’s nothing but a series of lies to rationalize our own insecurities. We’re not making it easier on them. We’re making it easier on us.
We don’t want to create an argument. We don’t want to have that awkward conversation. We don’t want to have that criticism turned back around on us.
So we hesitate. We put it off. We rationalize that it’s not that big of a deal.
A core rule of management is that the temporary quickly becomes the permanent. Allow a bad practice today and people normalize it for next time. With each delay, it becomes more difficult to correct.
Those poor behaviors won’t improve on their own. Every time we wait to address an issue, it makes it harder to correct. Until, of course, it becomes a major problem that we can no longer ignore.
When this happens, others pay the price for our own hesitation. It might cost us a headache. It costs them far more.
The alternative is to speak up. Don’t wait. We need to move past our initial hesitation and give people the guidance they need to grow.
Remember why you’re offering them feedback in the first place. You want them to improve. You want them to succeed. These are good reasons.
And once they understand these reasons as well, everything becomes a lot easier.
Show People That You Care.
No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.
That sentence, I think perhaps more than any other, captures the principle of leadership. To be effective as a leader, we need to connect with people. We need to develop trust. Great leaders know this happens through people’s hearts much more than through their heads.
If everyone was perfectly rational all the time, this might not be necessary. Others would recognize the benefit of your feedback and ideas regardless. They’d appreciate the genius behind your suggestions and quickly course correct. Everything would be much easier.
Yet we know this isn’t the case.
People take great pride in their work. They associate their work with their identity. Perhaps they shouldn’t, but they do. Any level of criticism is likely to bring about some initial defensiveness.
In order for people to drop these shields, they need to know that you’re looking out for their best interest. They need to know that you genuinely care and want to help.
People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
So tell them. Before offering feedback, remind them why you’re giving it. It could be something as simple as saying, “I’m telling you this because I have high expectations for you and I’m confident you can reach them.”
It’s one simple sentence, but it leaves a lasting impact. It reinforces the idea that you think highly of them. You’re not criticizing them, you’re trying to help them reach their potential. You don’t think negatively of them, you’re confident in their abilities. The more you can back up these ideas, the more open people are to your feedback. And the easier it is to give.
Make Constructive Feedback the Norm.
You can bin most companies into one of three categories.
Bad companies ignore poor performance. They isolate those who don’t pull their weight and put them somewhere they can do the least amount of damage. Management then leans on better performers to pick up the slack, creating discontent throughout the organization.
Good companies address these problems head on. Management’s engaged with the work and offers feedback as they see issues. They’re able to correct poor performance and hold people accountable.
But in great companies, this responsibility goes beyond management. Everyone in the organization offers feedback. Everyone in the organization, regardless of their title, holds people to high standards and offers feedback to that purpose.
In order to be a great organization, everyone needs to feel responsible for providing feedback. While management sees a fraction of the daily work, people work more closely with their peers. They’re in a much better position to recognize an issue or offer a new suggestion.
This doesn’t happen on its own. But it doesn’t take a lot either. We just need to make sure people recognize the reasons behind our feedback.
Show people that you care. Show them that you want them to succeed. Once they understand that, everything becomes a lot easier.