The Feedback Fallacy

(by Buckingham, Goodall; "HBR's 10 Must Reads 2021")

The Challenge: Managers today are bombarded with calls to give feedback--constantly, directly, and critically. But it turns out that telling people what we think of their performance and how they can do better is not the best way to help them excel and, in fact, can hinder development.

Underpinning the current conviction that feedback is an unalloyed good are three theories that we commonly accept as truths:

What these three theories have in common is self-centeredness: They take our own expertise and what we are sure is our colleagues' inexpertise as givens; they assume that my way is necessarily your way. But as it turns out, in extrapolating from what creates our own performance to what might create performance in others, we overreach. Research reveals that none of these theories is true.

The Reality: Research shows that, first, we aren't the reliable raters of other people's performance that we think we are; second, criticism inhibits the brain's ability to learn; and third, excellence is idiosyncratic, can't be defined in advance, and isn't the opposite of failure. Manager's can't "correct" a person's way to excellence.

The Solution: Managers need to help their team members see what's working, stopping them with a "Yes! That!" and sharing their experience of what the person did well.

The emphasis here should not be on "whys"--"Why didn't that work?" "Why do you think you should do that?"--beacuse those lead both of you into a fuzzy world of conjecture and concepts. Instead, focus on the "whats"--"What do you actually want to have happen?" "What are a couple of actions you could take right now?" These sorts of questions yield concrete answers, in which your colleague can find his actual self doing actual things in the near-term future.

Tags: reading   books   leadership   management  

Last modified 06 April 2022