I have to confess to you that I really totally hate your advice. 😊
Sure, if you give me advice, I’ve been trained to smile and say, “Thank you.” I’ll also react by telling you, as I have been told, that I can’t get better without advice from others.
But that’s not really how I feel.
In my heart of hearts, when you begin by telling me you’d “like to give me a little friendly advice,” I think I’m a soldier in Afghanistan about to be killed by your “friendly fire.” My first reaction is to run for cover to escape the attack from someone I had thought was on my side.
My West Texas relatives—who raised me—were not high on any kind of advice.
They would describe your faults in great detail behind your back—too lazy, too loud, too quiet, disobedient, mistake prone—and they would hint at them to you, or sometimes make you the subject of family shaming sessions. In my faith community, we were supposed to “confess our faults one to another.” But I can’t remember anyone ever coming up with any faults they wanted to share.
And so I have to admit that negative feedback really gets to me.
One of the ways you can hurt my feelings and make me mad at the same time is to answer the question, “How am I doing?” We seem to accept feedback on tests we take in school—most of the time we will accept test scores.
But when you criticize me on how I’m doing as a father, husband, manager, team member, communicator—how I dress or eat my soup—I can go into a downward spiral. Criticism like that touches my deepest insecurities and strikes at my greatest fears that in the end I just can’t cut it.
You may be right in what you say, but my first reaction is, “Kill the messenger!” You may be my boss or the person who holds my very future in your hands, but I want to let you know that you are in no way qualified to tell me what you have just told me.
I Really Do Need Effective Feedback—How Do I Do that?
So what about feedback at work?
When I hate advice is when I’m in my worst-self mode—not my best self. In my more sane self, I realize that nobody ever achieved anything worthwhile without feedback. Sports teams have coaches and symphony orchestras have directors—who are quick to point out a sour note. From surf-boarding to psychology, from music to master plumbing, the strength of your coaching will determine your strength as a professional. When you think of embarking of a new skill, the first question you want to ask is, “Who can teach me?”
Yet in the context of organizational teams we are prickly and feedback averse.
There are a few organizations that have achieved open and realtime feedback—where you can say what needs to be said to anyone at any time. There are many more organizations where leadership is so fragile and thin-skinned that saying the wrong thing about the wrong person—even when it’s quite true and necessary—will simply get you fired. The organization can be going over a cliff, but sounding the warning is more dangerous than the looming 100 hundred foot drop.
There are many who advocate totally open feedback, but I don’t think I would ever like to lead a company, or work there, where people could and did give realtime feedback and advice to anyone, on anything, anywhere in the company. A relatively small number of organizations have achieved this environment. But keeping team members’ confidence in their ability to perform is as important as any other element of company success, and that’s rarely achieved in an environment of constant critique.
How Do I Get Effective Feedback and Apply it?
Receiving and applying advice, counsel, and feedback is changing by the day, and the importance of getting it right is crucial. In the red hot job market that we’re seeing in many US cities, employees will not stay long under silly and demeaning performance feedback—yet most are sophisticated enough to know that they need effective feedback.
Here are some aspects of feedback we must all know:
- The Annual Performance Review Is on the Life Support—and for Good Reasons. The annual performance review became formalized in organizations in the 1950’s. Bosses had constant and ongoing contact with employees throughout the year and were able to observe them, and it made sense for them to have the annual chat about their performance. In today’s project/sprint environment where performance is measured in hours and days, it is unlikely that any one person will be able to observe performance—supervisors know it, and so do employees. Both hate annual reviews with good reason. The system is inoperable.
- As a Team Member, You Should Evaluate Youir Evaluators. Taken in the wrong direction this would mean to discount everything people tell you, which is deadly for your life and career.
A) If you haven’t already, you should thicken your skin to the point that the worst they can say to you makes you flinch a bit. If you’re not being criticized, you’re really irrelevant—you are literally not worth criticizing.
B) Our value system should reflect that we are determined to be the best that we can be. Only then can we have a career with a future that doesn’t stall mid-way through.
C) We should relentlessly collect feedback from everyone around us—how is the project going and how am I doing? If you’re not out there aggressively seeking realtime feedback, you’ll want to board a train that has already left the station,
D) We must become experts at evaluating the advice—and the person giving it. Sometimes someone is telling us that we are really making some big mistakes—and they’re right, and we can’t let pride get in our way. Other times the person is totally off-course on ther advice with suspicious motives.
E) Most of us would agree that staying employed and not getting fired is a really good thing. But the organization you’re with and the team you’re on doesn’t define you—you define yourself. You will likely be with another organization later on, and you are the only manager who will always manage yourself.
- Step up and Take the 360 Assessment—It Will Give You the Full Picture. The only people who see everything you do and can evaluate it is everyone around you—they have the full perspective. The 360 is fast replacing supervisor evaluations.
Hearing from your boss(es), direct reports, and peer colleagues is the experience of today. It’s like a Zoom call where you see yourself in action for the first time. We have many leaders who are voluntarily stepping up to take 360’s to finally and easily resolve the issues they haven’t been able to resolve.
The Joy of Knowing to Become Who You Want to Be
So I still hate your advice when it’s just your opinion, but I love the kind of feedback that will help me perform better and to have more effective relationships for the rest of my life. Being able to make changes that make life easier and more satisfying is a true joy. I never want to give up making my own decisions or being who I want to be. That’s the opposite of the person who, when they walk into a room, first tries to figure out who the crowd wants them to be—a tactic that really derails lives and careers. At the same time, I want to absorb every bit of feedback that people give me—and decide what I’ll keep, modify, or discard. If I become who I want to be, it will be based on getting feedback