“Now we speak of your weaknesses … hm … I should have said ‘potential areas to grow'”, my project leader winks at me with a conspirative smile. Someone must have told him that speaking of ‘weaknesses’ isn’t cool anymore – and therefore he needs to use a cover word. But the intention of his next sentences was clear: to show me areas where I fall short in his opinion. I hated working for him.
I guess, if you are around in business for a few years you know those feedback situations. You might even have learned in trainings to use cover words yourself and somehow work through feedback sessions – unsure what to say and how to say it. Or even convinced that this is the final day of judgement where you can tell your co-workers all the stuff you hate about them.
And then, there are those great people in businesses – real mentors who speak to you and afterwards you feel positive and stronger. Not because the content is only polished-positive but because they somehow speak in a way that you can actually use to grow.
In the past years, this monitored discrepancy made me wonder and search what feedback actually is meant for and how it can be delivered in order to see people benefit from it.
What is feedback?
By definition feedback consists of two attributes: Firstly, there needs to be an observation of something that happened – e.g. by a team member in the workplace. Secondly, this observation must be useful to leverage a change on it and therefore lead to improvement.
information about reactions to a product, a person’s performance of a task, etc. which is used as a basis for improvement.Dictionary
For example: A colleague sends out an important email to a wrong address. A useful feedback could be: The email was sent to the wrong address (description of what happened). You seemed to be under timely pressure and therefore you didn’t ask a colleague for review (sharing the observation). When you need to send an important email the next time, please ask someone for review (explanation of a potential improvement).
Feedback brings awareness to an area of unconsciousness. And by getting to know the information, one can get better.
Use feedback to light a fire
For sure, sometimes feedback needs to focus on behaviour that limits the career of a colleague. And by giving examples of their doing they are set free to change.
But what do you think of this perspective: Use feedback not only to state situations where a person failed but rather in which he/she has been really really excelled. There are a lot of people who outgrow themselves when you emphasize their strengths. Ask yourself: What does your mentee unconsciously do positively and needs to be pointed out?
Lately, one of my teammates needed to present a difficult topic to the client. We rehearsed the essential parts. Then the big day was there. She performed brilliantly on stage. Which I told her afterwards. But I did not stop there. I described all aspects of her strong performance precisely so that she could see why it was very successful. I even emphasized on her strength as a speaker and told her that I want to see her on larger stages and that she has a voice to be heard. She beamed for joy.
Another colleague of mine always did a great job but stayed somewhat silent in the overall group – you could almost miss that he was there. In feedbacks I emphasized on the very trustworthy results. Those results should be shown to others. They were proof of a brilliant mind. And we as a team would love to see more of the smart person behind the reliable work. Step by step the colleague became more visible and spoke about his contribution to the project.
Adress the potential!
In addition to giving feedback you can grow your mentees on purpose by getting to know their strengths. Here are some ideas: ask your people what they are dreaming about. What is his/her goal? Where lies the passion? Take some time to think: Is there any possibility for you to give your mentee a stage to live his/her passion? Here are some examples:
- (1) Did you just hear that he/she likes to speak in front of many people? – Find a client or internal meeting and give him/her the role of the moderator.
- (2) Did you hear a certain topic (that you are not familiar with)? – Find a colleague and connect them so that your team member can pursue his/her passion.
- (3) Did you hear he/she loves to work alone on a difficult problem and find the solution? – Find a project in which that strength plays out.
Seeing people walk in their strength with joy and passion, lifts my mood. Therefore I always try to speak about the potential I see in people. Sometimes they are not aware of it themselves or they are unsure whether they are allowed to follow their dream. To give these people a special kick by a wholeheartedly feedback regarding their potential, is pure joy.
Try it, too.