How Much Weight Should We Give Your Feedback?

Sometimes clients are referred to Ignite CSP because of negative feedback they received in a performance review, 360 survey, or client comment. The person hiring us passes this feedback along as if it is one of the Ten Commandments, carved into a stone tablet. “This negative thing happened! We need to go into immediate action!”

When I get to talk to the client about the feedback, two things often surface. First, they are really distressed by the negative comment. They think about it a lot, and sometimes it even causes them to leave certain projects or teams. Second, and this is related, the client has never heard this negative feedback before. 

As the coach, I’m faced with a paradox. The client’s company is distressed enough by the negative comment to hire me, but this is the first time the feedback has surfaced. The question I’m left with is this: how accurate is the feedback?

There are implicit problems with asking folks to weigh in on other people’s performance. One is that we don’t do a great job of quantifying how much impact the negative experience had on the person giving the feedback. In other words, does this negative behavior register as a 10 on a 1 to 10 scale? Does the feedback-giver experience this negative behavior or attitude every day? Would they have mentioned this even if they hadn’t been asked? Or, conversely, did they have to think a while to come up with an “area of development” to offer to the person asking for the feedback, and this issue is negligibly meaningful? Of course, it’s also possible that the issue falls somewhere in the middle.

I have two recommendations here. First, if you’re the person surveying for feedback, include a question that takes the temperature of the negative feedback. A simple scale can work to do this— 1 to 10 or 1 to 5. Or a question crafted to get to the issue of frequency: you experienced this once, often, always?

Second, if you’re asked for feedback, give a ton of context around your answers. If you’re pushed for constructive feedback, place it in perspective, even if you’re not asked to. Think about how to frame your remarks so that they can be maximally helpful to the person they’re about.

Feedback can be a great gift. It can also be destabilizing, disruptive, and ultimately send us down the wrong path when we’re trying to fix something that isn’t a big deal.

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