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It’s not so complicated: Giving feedback
About this episode
Giving constructive feedback is taking place every day, both in professional and in personal interactions.
But guess what? It rarely works.
In this episode, Farzad and Spyros discuss about the process of giving feedback, common mistakes, best practices and everything around it.
What they talked about:
- Why giving feedback fails and common mistakes around the process
- The backfire effect of giving feedback
- Various feedback-related fallacies
- What leaders can do to help themselves and their team
- Ways to improve the process of giving feedback
And all this in less than 15 min!
Farzad Khosravi: Well hey, everyone. I’m Farzad, I’m the Co-founder and CEO of Cicero. And I also do executive coaching, and sales and marketing consulting for startups. And I’m a wonderful, and I’m part of the wonderful community of Growth Mentor, which I can’t be thankful for enough.
Spyros Tsoukalas: Welcome Farzad, I’m excited to share this episode with you regarding feedback. So let’s get straight to the point tell us something we don’t know about the process of giving feedback.
Farzad Khosravi: Yeah, giving constructive feedback rarely works, most people screw it up. And in fact, it does the exact opposite. It makes people worse at their jobs. And it makes people really sad. It impacts their mental health. And that’s the issue that I see very often with a lot of the executives that I work with, right? They believe that, hey, if I give constructive feedback, it’s going to help my employee become better, and so on and so forth.
Spyros Tsoukalas: Why is that happening? What are the mistakes that are taking place, and this whole process fails.
Farzad Khosravi: So when we give feedback, we’re making a bunch of assumptions, right? We’re assuming that our feedback is based on an objective truth, that we’re not making errors in our assessment of someone, then we’re assuming that by giving the feedback, we’re going to actually make a meaningful difference in the person’s life, then we’re assuming that the feedback we give is going to actually make this employee a better employee, which makes them a better person for us to have on our team. All of these assumptions have been proven wrong, the majority of the time for the majority of the people, there’s tons of research on this again, I really advocate people read the feedback fallacy on the Harvard Business Review. Or if you want to peer into the research more, one of my favourite studies on this is simply titled negative feedback rarely leads to improvement. And they also talk about a lot of research that predates them that they point back to, but the moral of the story comes back to that we have a fitter cyclisation. In our society of giving feedback, we believe that the more feedback we give, the better people become, the better everything becomes. Yet, this is just not true. And the science is very clear on that. And, and I’ll ask every time I work with any executive or leader, I tell them, hey, think back on the jobs you hated the most, or the times where you’re at least happy with your job. What was that? What was happening, and I find 80-90% of the time, it comes down to the relationship they had with their management. And if you peered deeper into that, it comes down to how their manager or leader looked at their behaviour, right? They tended to have a very negative outlook on the person’s behaviour, which of course impacted their mental health impacted their happiness at work. But at the same time, we don’t seem to apply that to ourselves. When we are in a leadership position, giving feedback to people, we forget how much power we have, over someone’s mental health over their confidence over their anxiety levels. And again, by engrossing ourselves in this culture of fantasising feedback, we’re actually making our employees worse.
Spyros Tsoukalas: So this is the backfire effect of this whole loop, like making the conflict like the circumstances even worse, and this can lead to very negative results, like people quitting or whatever.
Farzad Khosravi: Yeah, I mean, people quitting is like, the ultimate form of it. But I would argue that the, the subtle, small things such as the impact that has on on the mental effects, or the mental health and the morale of the team, right, so I’m gonna give you some examples, like the common mistakes I see leaders make and what I tell them every time you want to give feedback, start here, right start at this place, which is question the feedback you’re giving, right? Most leaders just add something comes to their mind, like, Oh, I gotta give feedback about this. But that’s not where we should start. There’s a ton of fallacies that we need to be aware of right? The halo effect, which is to build the idea that someone’s behaviour in one place if someone’s good looks or someone’s height, or someone’s race can impact how we assessed her behaviour or their performance at work. This is well studied. It goes all the way back to World War I when this famous psychologist Thorndyke studied white pain what led to some officers being ranked really highly by other officers above them and some rank Lord and he found it had a lot more to do with were the good looks for their height was the way in on standard words than it did with their performance on the battlefield and World War I, right. So this is hundreds of years of research. And again, it goes into other fallacies when they might be engaging, which is emotional reason, right? The the idea that just because we feel something just because there’s, there’s an emotion doesn’t mean it’s true doesn’t mean have to adhere to that or believe that that feeling, or common thing I see managers make is like the fundamental attribution error, which is, you know, when an employee is late to a meeting, and they might be late, you know, three times in a row, or even once the leader might say, hey, this, this employee just doesn’t care, they’re being careless, or whatever negative connotation we may be thinking of. But let’s say they have a situation in which their mother or father or wife or child is sick, and has been sick for two or three weeks, and they’ve been late on meeting for four or five times, they make the excuse for themselves, hey, it’s because I have something going on in my life, while when they see someone else do it. They say, Oh, it’s because that person is bad. And I need to give them feedback. Right? So that’s the the attribution error I often see people make there’s tons of more of these cognitive biases, but the basic tenant comes, as soon as you think of something that you want to get feedback about. Sit down and question, is this objective reality? Or is it coming from somewhere else?
Spyros Tsoukalas: So this is very interesting. And I want to make a very interesting comment, like, in my understanding, so isn’t that the case? Every time we give, like we speak to someone about something that brings some type of conflict or misunderstanding, like, let’s say we argue about something. It’s like giving feedback every time because we we speak against something that somebody else stands for.
Farzad Khosravi: 100% that’s absolutely true. And I take these principles to my wife everywhere, whether it’s me talking to my friends, my father, or or I’m debating, right. And it all comes from, like, one of my favourite books on this is called, Never Split The Difference. It’s by a FBI negotiator, right. And he talks about, he doesn’t always get into the logical fallacies, but he talks about. Hey, how can we ensure that we can have conversations in which people aren’t automatically on the defensive and the backfire effect is full enforce, right? And that, for me, especially in the world of dealing with employees comes from living not make a statement. Unless I know it’s where I feel it’s true. And when I do make it, which is the second part of, hey, how do we how do we give good feedback? The second part is, let me make this statement now in a way that imbues in it a sort of skepticism of the statement? Right? So for example, let’s go back to the person who is being late to meetings, right? And I’m their manager, and their name is John. And I can say, Hey, John, it seems to me you’ve been late to three meetings in a row. I’m sure there’s something going on. I’m kind of worried about you what’s happening, right? That Stephen in and of itself is a lot less authoritative, a lot less scary, a lot less imbued with with certain assumptions about their characteristics. And it also gives them the opportunity to disagree, right? They could say, hey, yeah, Farzad, I’ve been late to three meetings you’ve been with me on, but I’ve had 45 meetings this week. And I haven’t been laid to the other 45. All right, so that we can say, oh, so I have some kind of random error bias going on, right? Just because I see something doesn’t mean, it’s what’s happening all the time.
Spyros Tsoukalas: Great. And I totally perceive that like, and I relate to it. Are there other aspects of the process of giving feedback that could like we could list like, ways to improve how to give feedback on top of what you just mentioned?
Farzad Khosravi: Yeah, exactly. So the so again, we go back to the first part, which is like, Hey, should I even give this feedback? Okay, the second part, okay, now, not just, I’m gonna give this feedback, I’m gonna give it the feedback in a way that is abusing it, again, a natural skepticism of the feedback I’m giving because I know as a human, I am susceptible to getting things wrong. But I also want to make it very easy and simple for the other person to disagree and more important than anything, I want their mental health to be in a good spot, right? I don’t want them to feel bad about themselves. So now what let’s say we gives us feedback. They might agree with it. Now, instead of making assumptions again about how to fix the problem, or what’s leading to this problem, let’s let’s phrase it as questions right. There might be logical, good reasons why they did what they did, or they made the choices they made. Just because you don’t understand them doesn’t mean that they’re not logical or that they don’t exist. So before saying, hey, you know, John, you shouldn’t have talked to the employee this way, or you shouldn’t have sent that email, I would phrase things totally differently. I’d say, Hey, John, I, I’m sure you made some really good assumptions. And you did some research before you sent that email, can you help me understand it? Because it’s a little different than than what I would have done? I want to learn from you. Right? That’s a totally different feeling. And, and again, as the person receiving that, that makes you feel way better than if someone in authority position came up to you and completely discounted the years of research or reams of experience you have in the tons of research you did before you took the action? You did. I was just like, Hey, John, I like what you did there, do it this way, the way I would do it. And at the end of all this right, the fourth part of all this is that after we all come to a mutual understanding of the situation, of what causes it, right, and why it happened, we want to set up clear parameters for what success looks like. And this is the part that I see people missing more than anything, right? They give feedback and like, okay, I give the feedback, I’m done, I don’t need to worry anymore. Or they get so annoyed and frustrated that they put someone on a pip. And at that point, we all know you as a leader looking to get rid of them. But before that happens, let’s let’s actually come up to a mutual understanding. Let’s understand the causes. And let’s create parameters. And this needs to be agreed upon by both parties, right? It’s to be collaborative. While it can be done verbally, I always recommend doing it in a shared document. And my formula for it is very simple, right? We start out with a “Why”, right? So why are we doing this? They agree on why you’re doing this, why you’re here today? What are you trying to do differently? Okay. And then there’s a what section like state what you’re trying to do, how it’ll look and feel what needs to happen? And then lastly, is a “How. How are we going to measure the success of this? So again, let’s say we talked to John, he was late to a couple meetings, we now understand because his mom or dad is sick. And we get to this part over here like trying to create, okay, how are we going to make sure John is late to meetings less often? Well, we now know it’s because his mom is sick. And there’s not much we can do about that. So what are we going to do? We’re going to actually change around the meeting times to accommodate his needs. And how are we going to make sure this is successful? We’re going to see if he’s able to make those meetings, right. This isn’t about like. Oh, our measure of success isn’t Oh, John was was he used to be late less often, it’s actually are these new times working for him, right? Because we want him to be able to take care of his mom. It’s a simple formula we use.
Spyros Tsoukalas: Amazing, you reminded me of one of the books that have changed the way I interact with people, The Five Love Languages. And if you know that, yes, but I will keep that topic. I think it’s highly related to how people interact even at working environments. But I will keep this topic for the next episode episode that we will record together and interact and talk about how people interact within working environments, like not only manager to employee or, but for other types of relationships as well. Further, thank you very much for this insight around giving feedback. This is one of the best episodes I have recorded so far for the Growth Mentor podcast, and we really appreciate you being part of our community.
Farzad Khosravi: My pleasure. It’s my pleasure to be part of that. Thank you. Thank you.
Spyros Tsoukalas: Thank you very much.
In this episode
+10 years experience in sales, marketing, and customer experience strategy. I’ve helped dozens of executives and founders set up KPIs, OKRs and tactics for email marketing, lead generation, content and product marketing, customer success, and sales.
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