A cognitive scientist at the University of Seattle, Therese Huston’s passion is simple: “I try to help smart people be smarter at work. It’s that simple. “
Huston is also a speaker, consultant and author, having just published her latest book Let’s Talk: Make Effective Feedback Your Superpowerr early 2021. Its goal: to turn smart search into a great practice for growth-minded professionals looking to bring out the best in themselves and their work.
“People crave better practices and what does the research say? »Explains Huston. “I try to present this in a way that people can really use at work.” Currently, Huston is applying his expertise regarding feedback in the workplace, in the hope of improving employer / employee relationships to the next level.
Common mistakes managers make when giving feedback
According to Huston, few professionals are really trained in how to give feedback. That said, there are three common, but preventable, mistakes that managers often make.
Mistake 1: They don’t give feedback at all.
According to a recent report in Harvard Business Review, 21% of managers admit that they do not provide feedback. Huston recognizes that most managers want to be the “nice boss.” People rarely want to be the one to give tough feedback to a colleague or direct report, especially given the hardships many are facing due to the pandemic.
Mistake 2: They don’t say their good intentions out loud.
Most leaders have good intentions when providing constructive feedback to their employees. The problem is, they assume the receiver knows this as well, which is rarely the case. Research suggests that when people get bad news, they tend to shoot Messenger.
Mistake 3: They lead by talking and not listening.
Huston recommends that managers practice listening by first asking their employees for their perspective on the situation. Reports show that with this approach, the recipient will find you much more effective at providing feedback, even if your words remain the same.
“People think feedback is about honesty, but it’s really about empathy,” says Huston.
How to give really useful feedback instead
So what do useful comments look like? According to Huston, here are the most important tips to remember:
- Lead by listening, not by speaking.
- Clarify your good intentions. (A simple statement like “I want good things for you” can go a long way).
- Adopt a growth mindset.
From the research of Carol Dweck (Stanford University), when we think of others we can adopt one of two perspectives: a growing mindset or a fixed mindset. While a fixed mindset assumes that a person’s behaviors are permanent and unable to change, a growth mindset assumes that a person is constantly learning and growing.
According to researchers at the University of Texas at Austin, when employers encouraged a growth mindset, their managers were 63% more likely to provide feedback to direct reports.
“If you think people are ready to change, then you’re more than willing to tell them what puts them in the right direction,” Huston notes. “It’s kind of like a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
How to solicit useful feedback from a manager
On the flip side, if you’re an employee looking to get feedback from your manager, Huston offers some helpful strategies for starting a conversation.
Make it easy for your manager
Talk to your manager with a list of three self-identified areas that you would like to improve. Then ask them what they would like you to prioritize. Huston says that with this approach, there’s a good chance your supervisor will add one or two, which will lead to a more productive conversation.
Ask for clarification on what a highly rated employee looks like.
If you work in a company that rates employees, maybe on a scale of 1 to 5, ask management, “What does a 5 look like?” This will give you a clear overview of the improvements that can take you to the next level.
Ask management if you are “promotional material”.
The most daring strategy would be to ask your manager directly, “Am I promotional material? If they say no, specify what improvements would need to be made to become eligible for a promotion. Give yourself and management a timeline for achieving that goal, then follow up monthly to confirm you’re on the right track.
Huston wants managers (and employees) to remember that these conversations will be uncomfortable at first, but ultimately lead to more connected and productive interactions in the workplace.
“A better way to think about this is to navigate the conversation on the comments,” Huston shares. “I’m going to say some things. You will say certain things, and I will listen to what you say.
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