Feedback Is The Breakfast Of Champions

“The more feedback you give to people, the better it is, as long as the feedback is objective and not critical.”
Brian Tracy

In every bit of humor, there’s a dash of reality as well as absurdity. That’s how comedians makes us laugh.

Take Dave Barry’s commentary on the two political parties, for example. He said, “The Democrats seem to be basically nicer people, but they have demonstrated time and again that they have the management skills of celery. They’re the kind of people who’d stop to help you change a flat, but would somehow manage to set your car on fire. I would be reluctant to entrust them with a Cuisinart, let alone the economy.”

“The Republicans, on the other hand, would know how to fix your tire, but they wouldn’t bother to stop because they’d want to be on time for Ugly Pants Night at the country club.”

I don’t know how truthful Dave Barry’s comment is. But I do know this: for the government to work … for a company to work … for a team to work … for a relationship to work … and for a marriage to work … you MUST be truthful.

As Fred Smith, the founder of Federal Express, put it, “I don’t want my employees thinking about the minimum amount of effort they have to put in to keep from getting fired. I want them thinking about the best possible job they could do if everybody was giving 100 percent of their effort. The key to getting that effort is communication and feedback. Workers want to know what’s expected of them and how they’re doing. They have to have report cards.”

As Ken Blanchard, the author of “The One-Minute Manager,” said so very well, “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” So do NOT skip this critical interpersonal behavior if you are working with or living with other people. For effective feedback, use this feedback form.

1. Share your observations rather than your evaluations.

In other words, when you’re about to give feedback, separate the facts from the stories. Facts are verifiable. They are objective realities. They are things that can be heard or seen outside your brain, and you can prove they are correct. By contrast, stories are the judgments, conclusions, or attributions you make about those facts. They are subjective and the same set of facts can lead to very different stories.

So you’ve got to be very careful about which is which when you’re giving feedback to someone else. Is this a fact? Or is this a story? And as a good rule of thumb, when conversations are crucial, learn to doubt your feelings. Give up the certainty that your stories are facts.

When you exercise this communication skill, it doesn’t mean that you remain completely objective and that you never make any evaluations of someone else’s behavior. It just means that you maintain a careful separation between your observations and your evaluations.

For example, when you’re giving performance feedback, when you’re citing undesirable behavior, there’s no need to lace your comments with evaluations. You’ll simply turn off the other person or make him/her defensive.

Avoid generalizations. Instead of saying, “The people in your department have a bad attitude.” try saying, “Three people in your department have expressed disapproval of this.”

Avoid absolutes. Instead of saying, “You never do what I ask … You always cut corners …You’re the worst at this.” it would be better to say, “Three times last year and twice this year we have had this problem.”

Avoid exaggerations. Instead of saying, “There are a million ways to do this better.” say something like, “I can think of at least two ways you could do this better.”

Avoid assumptions. Instead of saying, “You procrastinate at the tasks I give you.” it would be better to say, “You missed two of the last three deadlines on this.”

Some leaders lose their ability to lead because they let their emotions cloud their judgment. They act or speak before they think. They decide before all the facts are in. They allow their emotions to control their actions.

That won’t happen if you learn to separate the facts from your stories. And then learn to share your observations rather than your evaluations.

2. Describe how the other person’s behavior gets in the way of needed outcomes.

It is very important not to lose your “professional face” when you’re giving negative feedback. Even if you get the first step right, you’ll mess up the whole feedback process if you mess up this second step.

For example, it would be okay to say, “You told me your report would be on my desk by Monday morning, but it wasn’t there until Wednesday.” This is good. You’re giving your observation without evaluation.

But you’re in trouble if you add, “And that really ticks me off … or … That makes me look like an idiot to the head of the department … or … If it were up to me I’d fire your behind.” You’re sharing your feelings, which you have a right to have, but they do nothing to get the outcome you need.

Performance feedback works better if you say something like: “This will push the bidding process back two weeks and cost more money … or … This delay will force the other department to move their equipment two times, which will waste at least six hours of their time.”

Without telling the other person exactly how his or her behavior affects the rest of the team, your customers, or even your family, they’ll respond to your feedback with a “so what” attitude.

3. Keep it simple and professional.

Once you become involved in a feedback conversation, be conscious of your speaking habits.

Avoid using words that confuse people. Watch your use of industry jargon and acronyms. It’s rude to use terms that make it difficult for others to understand what you are talking about. Don’t use jargon and acronyms unless you are with people who speak the same business-related language.

Don’t sound unprofessional. Don’t pepper your speech with unnecessary questions like, “You know? … OK? … or … All right?” They make you sound weak and indecisive instead of serious.

4. State what you need.

To grow and develop, employees need critical feedback and advice. And if you sugar-coat the areas the employee needs to grow, you’ll stunt their development.

You can’t keep your employees in the dark. It’s all too easy to walk out of a meeting and forget to share the issues that were discussed and the decisions that were made. The topics may not feel that important to you, but without updates on this information, employees worry about rumors, changing directions, and how they will fit in.

Share what’s happening and state exactly what you need.

5. Make a specific request.

This might sound redundant, that I am simply repeating point 4 above. But I want to separate the two steps to make a point. You must to do more than state what you need. The need must be turned into a behavioral request.

And the more specific you are about what you want, the more likely you are to get it. For example, it’s one thing to say, “I need to have confidence that the people in your department will respond quickly when I need information.” That’s a statement of need. But the request might be: “Would you be willing to commit to responding to my e-mails within 24 hours?

Key point: Step number 5 is far more effective when stated in positive action language. State what you want to happen, not what you don’t want to happen.


6. Remember, there’s almost always more than one right answer.

When you give your performance feedback, when you state what you need, when you make a specific request, the other person is going to respond in some way. He/she may agree to the behavior change you’re asking, or he/she may suggest a modification in your request.

That’s okay. Be a little wary of taking the position of “my way or the highway.”

Jill Blashack-Strahan, the founder and President of Tastefully Simple, talks about that in her book, “Simply Shine.”

As Jill wrote, “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Life is full of contradictions. It’s never linear.”

“When my friend Sue was a child, her mom had an oversized glass jar filled with little soaps in her bathroom. You know the kind I’m talking about … delicate, pretty, colorful soaps that are to be admired but never used. During the 1960s this was a very ‘in’ decorating trend.”

“Sue was not allowed to use these precious soaps, and over time, the little soaps started to fade and become dusty. In spite of their lackluster appearance, the jar of dusty soaps became shrine-like and sat on the vanity for years.”

“Eventually, her mom decided to redecorate the bathroom and, as they were packing up everything to begin the project, Sue was shocked to see her mom pick up the soap jar, turn it upside down and unceremoniously dump all of the soaps into the garbage! Sue was incredulous. Weren’t these soaps a treasure? These precious, delicate, pretty, colorful soaps suddenly were just garbage? What was her mother thinking?”

“Seeing her daughter’s expression, her mom shrugged and said, ‘What? It’s just a bunch of dusty old soap!”

“For Sue’s mom, as she created the vision for her new bathroom and redefined what she wanted to achieve, saw them as ‘a bunch of dusty old soap’ and chose to dispose of them. Indeed, she hadn’t really seen those soaps for years. When people take things for granted, they cease to see or value them. However, others may see value. For Sue, the untouchable soaps represented something sacred. It took a radical shift in her perspective for her to see them as garbage.”

“I’ve had dusty soaps in my life, those ideas that I cling to because I perceive them as sacred. I used to ‘know’ that our Tastefully Simple products sold very well with an illustrated catalog. I ‘knew’ that all Tastefully Simple consultants had to have inventory at their parties because clients wanted to walk out the door with their purchase. I used to ‘know’ that you had to sample nearly every product at a party in order to have great sales.”

“And then someone said or did something that helped me see that there are new and better ways. Now we have a full-color catalog with gorgeous photography. Our consultants are inventory-free and we ship direct to every client’s door. We reduced the sampling at parties to fifteen to twenty items so our guests weren’t stuffed to the gills.”

“Plop! I threw my dusty soaps in the garbage and redefined my reality.”

And just in case you’re wondering what all this has to do with feedback and using a performance feedback form, Jill finished her comments by saying, “I’ve learned the importance of always looking for more than one right answer. I need to be on the lookout for dusty soaps, those little things that are so easy to overlook and grow accustomed to, even though they may be stale, boring and, well, dusty.”

So, yes. Give feedback. Lots of it. Use the five performance feedback steps listed above. But never close your mind to the possibility of another or even a better way of getting the job done.

Action:  Think of the people to whom you give feedback, on and off the job. Which of the six steps would they say you excel at and which steps would they say you need to improve?