We all have blind spots; we can all improve our performance in some way. Frequent, honest feedback is one of the best tools a leader uses to help their staff realize their potential. Successful leaders, those who really care about the development of their staff, know the feedback they give must be tailored to the person receiving the feedback. As the saying goes, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  The most successful leaders care about their staff to the extent they know how they will best receive and process feedback.

People receive feedback differently, primarily based on their level of self-esteem, self-confidence, sense of security or degree of resilience.  People with low self-esteem and resilience to feedback can take the feedback very personally, impacting their on-going performance for hours or even days. Those with higher levels of self-esteem and resilience often thrive on receiving honest feedback because they use it to learn and grow themselves.

As a leader, you are not responsible for knowing why the person has low self-esteem; you are also not responsible for changing them. However, as a caring leader, you will take responsibility for knowing how to share feedback to enable the person to grow and perform to their capabilities.

Generally speaking, feedback is best delivered against performance standards or expectations that have been previously established and agreed to. Giving someone feedback on their performance or behavior when the standard has not be established or communicated is like playing football without regard for how many points are scored then declaring a winner at the end of the game.  Subjective feedback is generally worthless.

Some people are their own worst critic; when giving them feedback, sometimes it is best to allow them to tell you about the results they achieved or didn’t achieve compared to the previously agreed to expectation.  In this way, they are giving themselves the feedback (which because they can be over-achievers in the first place, already know the results and therefore the feedback is evident before you have this conversation). You can then agree with their assessment and ask what they will do to address the situation.  Chances are good that they have already thought through what they are going to do, in which case you can affirm their approach and encourage them to continue on.

Action to Take

  1. Take an honest assessment of how well you know the people you lead in terms of how they receive and process feedback.  If in doubt, ask them for their preferred approach.
  2. Ensure you and your employee have alignment on clearly defined and measurable results for an assignment before you provide feedback.
  3. Consider having regular check-ins with your staff to track progress and give feedback, rather than waiting until performance appraisal time or the end of a 3 month long project.

Question: What do you do to provide honest feedback to highly sensitive employees? You can leave a comment here.