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This Wrong Feedback Method Is Demotivating Your Team Members 

Mid-level management jobs and leadership positions are extremely challenging.

In today’s flatter organizational structures, mid-level leaders are required to handle and juggle a wide range of ever-increasing responsibilities while coping with constantly changing corporate strategies, greater interpersonal conflicts, and team members who are frequently less than highly engaged.

One particular challenge for many new managers, supervisors, and team leaders that I have noticed in my 25 years of international leadership development training is giving relevant, useful, and beneficial feedback.  In fact, giving feedback is one of the greatest fears of new leaders at all levels of an organization.

Why Feedback Discussions Are Uncomfortable

There are several reasons why feedback discussions are uncomfortable for both the supervisor and their team member. I will highlight two of these here.

One is that new supervisors and managers tend to be in manager mode when giving performance feedback. As I mentioned in a previous blog post on Why New Managers and Supervisors Are Not Comfortable Giving Performance Feedback, managers give directions and directives. When you have your managerial hat on, your feedback discussions focus on issues or problems and tend to be one-way conversations, prescriptive, and result in low buy-in.

When you are in leadership mode, you engage in two-way dialogs with team members, ask questions, and solicit input. That’s a much different kind of conversation. One that is engaging and focuses on solutions. And a conversation that creates higher levels of commitment and buy-in from your team member.

Going into leadership mode for feedback discussions requires a mindset change. For more on this, see the previous blog post on Change Three Things To Make Performance Feedback More Effective.

Drop the Bookend Approach

The bookend approach to feedback – also known as the sandwich approach – has been taught to managers and leaders for decades. This method layers so-called constructive (or negative) feedback between a pair of so-called positive feedback statements.

The first problem is that the whole concept of giving negative feedback (a term tempered slightly by calling it constructive feedback) is that very few people want or enjoy giving negative feedback. Who jumps out of bed in the morning with glee thinking, “I cannot wait to give so-and-so negative feedback today!”

This is why providing effective feedback requires a mindset change.

The second problem with the bookend approach is that it no longer works. As soon as you start with the positive feedback comments, your team member is on edge waiting for that awful word “but” to enter the conversation. Hence, the initial statement causes angst and worry, rather than the intended effect of softening the blow before the hammer drops with the constructive feedback statement.

It is much better to give what I call Fortifying Feedback (aka reinforcing) on its own and then have an Enhancement Feedback (aka developmental) conversation as a separate discussion.

This allows the motivational benefits of telling someone specifically what they have done well to sink in. Let your team members revel and relish in the positive feelings of being told their contribution is being recognized and praised.

There is no need to sugarcoat Enhancement Feedback with a soft opening sentence or phrase. Simply tell the team member there is an issue to be discussed, approximately how long the conversation will take, and ask if they have anything they want to bring up before discussing the issue.

In both situations, you are now ready for a productive conversation that will either reinforce behavior or prompt change. And both conversations will have an increased probability of building confidence and competency in your team member.

Improve Your Feedback Proficiency

To learn more about how to provide effective feedback, join my workshop The Art of Effective Feedback, on January 21st at 2pm (Central USA time).

This 50-minute workshop ($75) will provide you with a proven, best-practice model for delivering both Fortifying Feedback (aka positive, reinforcing) and Enhancement Feedback (aka developmental, negative). I will also give you tips on handling difficult feedback conversations.

Go to this The Art of Effective Feedback page to register for the workshop. Hurry, space is limited to only 100 attendees.


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