By: Susan Mahoney
The state of coaching and mentoring in the business world—particularly in the sales world where I do the majority of my consulting work—is pretty lame.
Researcher Brene Brown observes that a lack of meaningful feedback is the #1 reason that talented people leave their firms. If feedback is so critical to employee engagement and commitment, then why is it so poor or so lacking? Most managers are so uncomfortable giving feedback that they give unrealistic feedback or no feedback at all.
In my coaching and consulting practice, I hear of salespeople and sales managers not receiving an annual performance review for two years—or not at all. And, really, how much behavior change can someone pursue with once a year feedback?
I coach salespeople directly to improve their performance, and I also coach sales managers on how to coach their teams. Because many sales managers can’t or don’t adopt consistent coaching practices, their team’s performance doesn’t improve. How about another approach?
I recently advised a group of salespeople to not wait for their managers to give them a performance review or to receive coaching. I encouraged them to take the initiative and ask for very specific coaching in areas they want to improve. This approach puts the onus on them to take responsibility for their own development and in the process shifts the coaching dynamic in their organizations.
According to recent research, it’s the receiver’s skill in a feedback conversation that has the most impact. A surprising, yet timely, piece of information.
Then I came across a fascinating book, “Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well” by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen, which made me think more deeply about the topic of coaching and mentoring. The book is required reading for my executive coaching certification at the Hudson Institute of Coaching in Santa Barbara, California. It is a remarkable program in which I am honored to participate.
Here are a couple of principles from the book that I think everybody can learn from—whether you are looking for feedback for yourself or planning to give feedback to another.
What gets in the way of effective feedback?
Feedback can trigger emotions in us that can become obstacles to receiving a message. These triggers can also help us locate the source of our trouble. Understanding our triggers and sorting out what sets them off are the keys to managing our reactions and engaging in useful conversations. But understanding the feedback we get well enough to evaluate it fairly is tough. The authors highlight three triggers that we all have that can get in our way, and we should be aware of:
- Truth Triggers: We perceive the feedback to be wrong
- Relationship Triggers: Our reactions to what we believe about the giver and how they treat us
- Identity Triggers: Something in the feedback makes us question our very foundations of self
The next time you have trouble receiving feedback, take a moment to think about your own triggers and how they are impacting your perception of the feedback. If you are coaching someone and they seem to resist the feedback you are giving, consider if they may be dealing with their own triggers. If so, it may be advantageous to address those triggers directly with the person you are coaching and help him or her navigate those feelings.
Types Of Feedback And How To Respond
Another key concept from the book is the different types of feedback. We tend to think all feedback is the same. It is not. The book presents three types of feedback:
- Appreciation: Thanks!
- Coaching: There’s a better way to do it.
- Evaluation: Here’s where you stand.
Learning to discern the type of feedback you are getting can help to determine how to accept and use the feedback. For those giving feedback, the authors advise against mixing evaluation and coaching. We tend to be distracted by evaluation, which may negatively impact how we hear the coaching. Separate the two. Coaching is a relationship, not an event, so plan for it. When asking for coaching, be aware of the differences between the types of feedback.
How To Ask For Feedback At All Levels
I have a current coaching contract with several mid-level managers at a global firm. Their goals are to improve their leadership capabilities and potentially move up in the organization. Of the many activities they commit to doing for their growth, the most critical and the most challenging is the act of asking for feedback from others.
Very few of them—and most of us—are aware of our blind spots. Not knowing our blind spots can prevent us from growing and advancing.
I embrace the suggestions in the book on how to ask for feedback. They suggest to just pick a place to start. What is one thing that is important for you to work on? Once that is selected, be specific in how you ask for feedback. Don’t say “I’d like some feedback.” Instead ask “What’s one thing that I could work on?” or, “What’s one thing you see me doing, or not doing, that’s getting in my own way?” If the feedback giver wants to provide 10 things you should work on, don’t get overwhelmed, simply ask them to help you prioritize to the most critical thing at the moment.
I often encourage my coaching clients to try a new behavior in a low-risk setting. This can build confidence and muscle memory so that it can be a more deliberate choice when the stakes are higher. For example, if a pattern of feedback highlights that delegation is an obvious challenge, and micro-managing is the observed behavior pattern, try backing off of controlling less urgent and less important tasks in a low-risk setting. Once the new behavior becomes more comfortable, then practice in a more realistic setting.
By learning how to seek out, accept and internalize feedback in a productive way, we can all learn more from the coaches and mentors in our lives, both as givers and receivers of feedback. Being a good and active learner is a significant career advantage. And, imagine how much more well balanced our population might be if we practiced some of these principles.