Is Feedback The Secret To Being A Good Manager?

How willing a manager is to offer feedback can be the key
How willing a manager is to offer feedback can be the key
Image Credit: Alan Levine

As a manager, you are the person who is in charge of a team. Your company expects you to find ways to get the most out of your team. The problem that most of us run into is that we don’t necessarily know how to make this happen. I think that a lot of us believe that there must be some magical means that we can use to connect with our team and draw their best work out of them. I hate to be the one to tell you that such a magical tool does not exist. However, it turns out that there is something that is fairly simple that you can use that will allow you to better connect with everyone on your team.

How Valuable Is Feedback?

Ok, so just for a moment imagine that you strike up a conversation with a stranger in line at Walmart one day and quickly notice that they have a large smudge of dirt across their cheek. Would you tell them about the potentially embarrassing mark? Let us all agree that we certainly like to know if we’re walking around in public with dirt on our face. Additionally, most of us would like to think we’d help a stranger out with a discreet heads up if they were unaware of an embarrassing issue.

However, when a team of university researchers actually tested this scenario in real life, sending a confederate out to question passersby for a survey with a large lipstick or chocolate smear across his or her cheek, do you want to guess how many people actually informed the clipboard-wielding stranger about the problem? The correct answer is only roughly 2.6 percent. Only five out of 200 people even said anything. If that result surprises you, guess what: you’re not alone. The researchers were surprised by the findings, which they insist offer managers important lessons about giving constructive feedback.

It turns out that we have all been underestimating how much people value our feedback. The researchers said that their results surprised them because they didn’t expect the number to be so low. Most managers like to think of ourselves as someone who would give someone feedback in this kind of situation, but the study showed that most people don’t.

Should We Be Offering More Feedback?

Managers want to know find out why our behavior so frequently fails to live up to our ideals in this kind of situation. A series of follow-up experiments were conducted using both real-life set ups and fictional scenarios to figure out how people think through when and how to give constructive feedback. Each experiment yielded roughly the same results for the researchers: people consistently underestimate how much other people will appreciate feedback. No matter if we’re dealing with close friends or complete strangers, managers will frequently misperceive either how much impact our feedback will have and how much the other party generally wants to be given advice to improve.

Managers need to realize that this is particularly true in higher-stakes situations. For instance, when the university researchers ran a speaking competition with the prize of a $50 Amazon gift card, those who were charged with coaching speakers seriously underestimated how much their partners wanted feedback in order to improve. It was found that the gap between real and expected desire for feedback was smaller in lower stakes situations. The dead simple takeaway of all of this according to the researchers is very simple: managers and others in a position to give useful feedback should offer more. Even if we feel hesitant to give feedback, we should give it: the person most likely wants it more than you think.

Now you may be nervous that the other person might react badly even after becoming aware of this research. You need to ask yourself, “If I were this person, would I want feedback?” This simple question has been shown to improve people’s willingness to give feedback during the research. Of course, working up the courage to provide constructive feedback is only part of the overall process. Managers also need to know how to deliver it effectively. All these tips and formulas for better feedback will only be useful if you can actually bring yourself to open your mouth and share your feedback. So whenever you doubt whether your feedback will be well received, think back to this study. This should encourage you to give the feedback your team both needs and wants.

What All Of This Means For You

Managers are always looking for ways that they can get more out of their teams. We want to be able to connect with our team members and we want to be able to provide them with the kind of guidance that they need in order to become better workers. Our challenge is that all too often we are not sure what the best way to go about doing this is. The good news is that studies have been done and the best way to improve the members of our team is known.

When we encounter someone who has something visually wrong with them, a stain, a torn piece of clothing or whatever, would you speak up? Studies have been done that show that all too often people would not speak up and let the person know about what was wrong. The problem with this is that the person would like us to speak up, they really want our feedback. What managers don’t realize is that the members of our team really want us to provide them with feedback about their job performance. As the importance of what our team members are doing goes up, the value of our feedback also increases. Managers who are hesitant to provide feedback need to realize that feedback is what their team members really want.

Motivating our team and getting them to perform at a higher level is what every manager would like to be able to do. We are always searching for ways to let our team members know what they can change and what they can do better. It turns out the just knowing this information is not enough. Once we know how team members can become better, we need to take the time and share it with them. Our feedback is not only needed, but it is also wanted. As our team members become better and better at their jobs, we want them to come back and thank us for the feedback that we have been able to provide them with.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™

Question For You: How often do you think a manager should provide a team member with feedback?

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