How do we handle corrective feedback

„You can comment on anything about me as long as you give me compliments!“

A very interesting statement that says a lot about human psychology in just one simple sentence. Thinking more deeply about it and trying to connect its meaning with everyday life and my own experience, I realize that I very often encounter such attitudes. And here are some additional questions: Do we want to hear corrective feedback at all or just praise? And when we hear it, how do we react? Do we give corrective feedback to others? And if so, how do we do it?

This is a very interesting topic to consider in both private and professional life.

In private life, we usually say to others something like, “I still like the way your hair looked before.” And we think to ourselves, “Oh, I don’t like her hair at all!” Or when someone tells us, “Maybe you could smile and not always be so serious, ”we mean“, What are you saying? I laugh a lot. Should I still smile at complete strangers in the street ?!” We actually tend to either fight and defend our position or withdraw thinking “He / she is so rude to make such nasty comments”. We rarely think about the content of the message and don’t try to figure out if there really is something we missed in the process that could help us improve ourselves.

In professional area things are similar: today many companies have procedures for performance management which include giving and receiving corrective feedback. Face it, not everything we do at work can be peaches. In some areas we are more experienced, in others not and we need to develop further. Also, it is natural to like some job tasks more than others and it is very likely that things we like to do will be done with better results and enthusiasm than the ones we do not.

In my professional experience I have come across different performance management processes and while some of them were even excellent in theory, several issues were present in the practical application.

Those issues could be:

1.      As long as person (human) is involved in it, the process is not 100% objective, although many steps can be taken to maximize its objectiveness. (bias of he/she likes me or dislike).

2.      Many times process is performed „pro forma“ or just for the sake of the exercise, paying attention so much to the form and forgetting about the content and the reason behind why is it done in the first place.

3.      Corrective feedback requires fast cycle, not a slow one. Slow response can cause more issues than not addressing the performance at all. In most companies performance management process is done once or twice per year. Imagine the situation when the feedback is given/received in June for something that has happened in January! 6 months ago!

4.      Preparation is 90% of success! If the ones who are responsible in the company for performance management process do not work hard on coaching every single employee on the steps, it can cause a lot of confusion.

5.      In some countries it is not a part of tradition to give or receive corrective feedback, rather to give and receive only compliments, which is nice, but what exactly can we learn from a compliment? What does it take to improve our skills and behaviour?

Over time I have learned some useful tips which can be extremely helpful to overcome the above mentioned obstacles:

  • Create a safe surrounding, safe atmosphere for „try and learn“ situations, for practicing, for being ok with mistakes as long as we know how to address them and take away development from them. And this includes strong commitment from the leadership.
  • Patience! It takes time to get from A to B, to implement the procedure, to build the atmosphere of trust, for employees to learn and understand the process itself and advocate it further.
  • Encouraging the employees to give suggestions for process improvement is a fantastic thing. The world is changing with globalization, technical development, modern issues we are facing daily, it is faster and different than before. And processes should not stay the same for years just because „it has been done like that for years“. They can stay the same if they are efficient!
  • It is the best to speak always with concrete words and/or numbers when giving/receiving feedback. Descriptive comments like „You are always late“ or „I don’t have a feeling that you are trying enough“ can lead to endless discussion with not such a good outcome for either part. Therefore, again preparation!
  • Starting with ourselves is always the best tactic. We can practice with our closest ones, family members, friends, close colleague, etc. simply by asking them questions like “Please tell me one good thing about myself and one thing that I could improve.” or “When it comes to work, how would you describe me by using few examples.” Practicing and paying attention about the content will lead us to the state of controlling our ego and improving our personality traits.
  • When it comes to giving feedback it is good to do it in a way you would like to be given feedback by someone else. For example, If you do not like “sandwich” style, try not to use it on others (good info first, negative in the middle and again compliment at the end). Personally, I value honesty combined with careful communication style, then I am completely IN.
  • Finally, it is important to emphasize the importance of self-evaluation, ie readiness to look into one’s own eyes and one’s own areas for further development. Because then we are well on our way to being better people tomorrow than we are today.


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