Future-focused feedback

In yesterday’s post on rapid feedback, I skipped over one fascinating tip from the book The Effective Manager.

You know how people tend to get defensive when you give them negative feedback? And then you’re stuck debating for half an hour about what actually happened and why? I always thought that discussion was an important part of giving feedback, but I was wrong.

The book argues that the purpose of feedback is to encourage effective future behavior, and that arguing about the past is irrelevant to that purpose.

We recommend that you give in when a direct argues or gets defensive. Don’t get drawn into a discussion about what happened. That’s unrelated to the future you want to focus on.

Once you’ve given the feedback and the direct has pushed back, pause, smile, apologize, and walk away. You’ve made your point. Don’t let the direct try to win her argument simply because you’ve shown her the courtesy of letting go.

Remember again what this all boils down to: does the direct change her behavior in the future? She’s much more likely to do so if you avoid the arguments she’s trying to put in the path of an effective conversation.

Fascinating, no? When the person gets defensive, you give in and walk away?! Yes, because they’re defensive about the past. Your purpose is to encourage effective future behavior, and you did that. So why argue about something you can’t change? Bow out and let the person “win” the argument. They’ll still remember your feedback next time.

This is totally backwards from how I’ve always thought about feedback, but it feels freeing. I can give feedback in 5-15 seconds and I don’t even need to debate the past?! Talk about a double whammy for encouraging feedback culture.


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