Blind Spots Revealed: A Constructive Approach to Workplace Feedback

In our detailed look at emotional self-assessment, we’ve identified that measuring the feelings of others is just as important as self-regulation. As it turns out, these assessments cover a major portion of the tenents of Emotional Intelligence. EQ is more important to a healthy corporate culture and an individual’s career success than is IQ. And, EQ is a crucial component for one of the sorely lacking aspects of professional development: Feedback.

The only way we learn and grow is with feedback. Yet in general, we could all use a lesson in giving and receiving this constructive criticism. According to stats in this OfficeVibe infographic:

  • 65% of employees want more feedback.
  • 40% of employees are actively disengaged when they receive little or no feedback.
  • 39% of employees do not feel appreciated at work.

After digesting this heartbreaking analysis, is it any wonder that the state of workplace communication is dismal? To anyone who’s been reading my posts since the beginning of 2017, it’s hardly news that people are skittish when it comes to trust in their colleagues. When the topic turns to feedback, trust is even more vulnerable, because feedback strikes a chord of fear. It’s “us against them” or “she thinks I want her job”. The threat takes on an even deeper dimension when we acknowledge that feedback is usually tied to a raise.

The writing is on the wall: The surest way to thrive in the workplace is to shift our cultural mindset regarding feedback! We all have blind spots, which can only be revealed through the perspective of others. The sole purpose of feedback SHOULD BE to improve performance through communication. By employing the tenents of EQ, feedback can then turn from a threat to an essential part of annual reviews and daily office interactions.

Three Magical Rules

Safe workplace communications require that a few rules be in place for the giving and receiving of feedback. For one, it needs to be public knowledge that feedback is NOT an attack on character, a judgment of another, or an interpretation of another’s intent. As the provider, you should thoughtfully determine how to best affect the recipient’s job skills, knowledge, and time & work management, verbally setting the tone of the session.

Secondly, to maximize feedback’s impact, try to think of it as coaching. This brings the two parties involved to the same side of the table. Such feedback will ultimately benefit the company and its culture if you keep its sole purpose in mind— which is to help improve job performance. A feedback recipient, much like a coachee, can become curious once she feels convinced that strengthening her performance is the provider’s intent. That shift from defensive to curious is the magical pivot.

And finally, look towards the future rather than dwelling on the past. A growth mindset offers the luxury of self-compassion. It’s the difference between “I failed” and “I’m a failure”. In turn, this clear-headed insight leads to, “What have I learned and how will I do it better in the future?”.

Educating Rita

After digesting these three mindset moves, prepare to take your new feedback protocol out for a spin by focusing on a specific employee. Consider Rita, hypothetically. She’s that direct report who’s quick to cut people off in meetings. Coaching Rita in a professional manner might look something like this: Ask to speak with Rita right after the meeting. “Rita, do you have a minute? I’d like to give you some feedback so you can help make team meetings more effective”. It’s important to deliver the feedback promptly, rather than during a formal review. Once you and Rita are ensconced in your office, apply the A.I.R. Feedback ModelTM, which was introduced to me by professional coach Deborah Howard of Guiding Change. The brilliance of this approach is that it takes emotion out of receiving feedback. First, critique Rita’s specific Action, not the person (“Rita, I’ve noticed you tend to talk over other people.”) Then, be sure to describe the Impact that action has on others (“Your habit interrupts the team and slows their progress.”) Finally, make your Request for what you’d like Rita to say/do differently (“Please be conscious of your actions and try to change them.”) This feedback model will create a win/win/win situation in the office— for Rita herself, for the people she cuts off, and for the preservation of your culture of trust.

What starts out as an uncomfortable protocol will evolve into a welcomed habit with a little practice. Give it a try in the near-term, and check back soon as I lay out some background as to why we have our blind spots, and how we can widen our peripheral vision before our communication is affected.