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We Deceive Ourselves About How Much Honest Feedback We Actually Give

Updated: Nov 5, 2020

The truth is available from HR professionals everywhere and probably we know it inside ourselves. We complain about employees or reach our breaking point. We’re ready to fire them.

“Have you had a conversation with them about this feedback?” our HR colleagues ask. “Of course, many times,” we answer.

But the evidence is never there that these so-called feedback conversations took place. The employee doesn’t remember them and there’s no written evidence. And if such a conversation did take place, we didn’t specify what was wrong and how the employee could improve.

I need to clarify that I am not advocating the filling out of a lot of forms. But I know, by talking to a lot of managers about the conversations they do have, that feedback–which I define as information about past performance that can be used to improve future performance–is not being received. (And you can’t count on once-a-year performance review—which isn’t really feedback. It’s not timely and not used for getting improvement.

In a communication course I once took in NLP–Neurolinguistic Programming, based on scientific studies of hypnosis, cognitive science, family systems therapy, and other interesting fields, they state it bluntly:

The only meaning of a communication is in the response you get. No matter what you think you think you communicated, if you get a different response from the receiver, you’ve blown it.  It’s your responsibility to communicate your message in such a way that the other person will understand it. Period.

It is our responsibility to:

  1. Give prompt, honest feedback

  2. Make sure the employee understands it.

  3. If they don’t get it, try again.

  4. Talk with them about solutions,

  5. Gain their commitment to improvement

Feedback isn’t easy. We’re not good at it. That’s our feedback and we owe it to our team members to improve.

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