I read an article called “The Feedback Fallacy” in this month’s Harvard Business Review. While reading I’m thinking, I already know what feedback is, how to give it, and its value. Why should I waste my time reading another article on feedback? And then I read this sentence,
“… 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.”
This is a MUST read article on feedback that will challenge the conventional notions we’ve all learned. Here is a taste of what you will learn.
Three beliefs that people in business commonly accept as truths, but are NOT.
- “Other people are more aware than you are of your weaknesses, and that the best way to help you, therefore, is for them to show you what you cannot see for yourself.”
- “The process of learning is like filling up an empty vessel: You lack certain abilities you need to acquire, so your colleagues should teach them to you.”
- “Great performance is universal, analyzable, and describable, and that once defined, it can be transferred from one person to another, regardless of who each individual is.”
So, why are these commonly held beliefs NOT true?
- “Humans are unreliable raters of other humans. We’re a source of error.”
- “Learning is less a function of adding something that isn’t there than it is of recognizing, reinforcing, and refining what already is.”
- “Neurologically, we grow more in our areas of greater ability.”
- “Getting attention to our strengths from others catalyzes learning, whereas attention to our weaknesses smothers it.”
- “Focusing people on their shortcomings or gaps doesn’t enable learning. It impairs it.”
The premise is that “learning rests on our grasp of what we’re doing well, not on what we’re doing poorly, and certainly not on someone else’s sense of what we’re doing poorly.”
What about using 360 feedback instruments? Not useful. Is a key to learning to get out of our comfort zones? Not so. We learn best in our comfort zones.
The authors close with very specific techniques of how to help people excel including a diagram of examples of language to try instead of language you may currently use.
I was challenged by this article because I have trained and coached managers to give feedback in some ways the authors criticize. It’s time for me to rethink my approach to feedback. I am grateful for the authors’ insight.
I close with the article’s last paragraph that sums it all up.
“We humans do not do well when someone whose intentions are unclear tells us where we stand, how good we ‘really’ are, and what we must do to fix ourselves. We excel only when people who know us and care about us tell us what they experience and what they feel, and in particular when they see something within us that really works.”