Feedback without Fear

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Feedback. New bosses dread it. Experienced bosses hate
it. Participants in my programs have told me that for over twenty-five years. So
I’m always on the lookout for helpful advice on how to do that critical job

Conquering Your Fears of Giving Feedback ” is the headline of an interview
with Karen May, vice president for people development at Google, conducted by
Adam Bryant of the New York Times. It turns out that the interview includes
helpful insights on many things besides giving feedback, but there was one thing
Ms May said that I disagree with. Here’s how she’s quoted.

“If you’ve identified something that isn’t going well, then you’re likely to
be asked, ‘How do I fix it?’ If you don’t know the answer, you might not want to
start the conversation. I think that’s the primary reason managers don’t give
feedback. They’re willing to give the feedback, but then they won’t know how to
help fix it, so why start the conversation?”

My experience tells me that’s wrong. The reasons bosses dread giving feedback
is that they fear confrontation and they’ve never learned how to increase the
odds of a good outcome. But giving good feedback isn’t magic. There’s method to

Prepare the ground. Touch base a lot and have real
conversations with your team members about lots of things. You will learn about
their strengths and the challenges they face. And you’ll develop a relationship
that will make talking about behavior or performance easier.

Catch problems and deal with them when they’re small.
Problems are like dinosaurs. They’re much easier to deal with when they’re
little. If you leave them alone, they grow up and get nasty. Then they can eat

Imagine your job as working together to define the problem and find a
You’re not supposed to have all the answers. But it’s your
job to help team members define problems and solve them. The key word is

Learn some technique. Knowing how to begin a conversation
about performance will increase your confidence and improve the odds of a good

Boss’s Bottom Line

Giving feedback and helping team members improve performance is a critical
part of your job. Learn to do it well.

Some Other Posts on Talking about Behavior and

Boss’s Tip of the Day: How to talk about behavior

Bosses: Give Frequent and Usable Feedback

Feedback is the Boss’s Job

Seven Characteristics of Highly Effective Feedback

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