Telling someone they “don’t take feedback well” doesn’t count as performance feedback
Perhaps the most common “performance feedback” is, “You need to take performance feedback better.” I’d say about 90% of all employees in the world fear this “feedback.” That’s because performance feedback of this nature is inherently unfair, and it isn’t performance feedback anyway. Let’s take a look at why this is so.
The context for the dreaded, “You don’t take feedback well” is usually during a feedback session to an employee, and the employee reacts negatively in some way to the feedback. Some sample negative reactions by the employee may be the following:
–Saying, “I don’t agree with the feedback”
–Saying, “That doesn’t make any sense.”
–Saying, “I’ve never heard that feedback before.”
–Saying, “I tried really hard.”
–Saying, “You’re a terrible boss!”
–Shutting down, getting angry or otherwise reacting emotionally
In each of these cases, the employee is reacting to the feedback in a way that makes it uncomfortable to the manager providing the feedback. Then the manager may, at that instance, or in a second feedback session, say, “You need to take performance feedback better.”
OK, manager – this is more “feedback” to the employee, but it is not performance feedback. And managers should consider refraining from giving this “feedback” for the following reasons:
1. This feedback is not related to the original performance
When a manager gives performance feedback, the performance that the original feedback was designed to improve is what is important. This secondary feedback, “You need to take feedback better”, is, by definition, external to the performance of the original conversation. So which is more important? Is it the performance of the employee you want to improve, or is it how the employee reacts to performance feedback that is important? If the manager is serious about improving performance of the employee, the manager needs to keep the focus about the actual performance and behaviors that need to change. The manager subverts this focus by transitioning to the feedback conversation.
2. Don’t assume the employee won’t incorporate the original feedback
Sure, the employee has reacted negatively to the feedback, but is it certain that the employee won’t actually incorporate the alternate behaviors that the manager’s feedback is trying to guide toward? It’s a short-sighted manager who thinks that when an employee is surprised, reacts emotionally, or lashes out, that it also means they won’t take into account the feedback. Does the manager really have the knowledge the original feedback won’t be incorporated? No.
The best way to determine whether an employee “takes feedback well” is if, during the next opportunity to perform, the employee actually changes the behaviors in some way to behaviors recommended by the feedback.
If the employee actually does change what they do as a result of the feedback session, how much does it matter that the employee reacted negatively at the moment of receiving feedback? It is natural that someone reacts initially to feedback in a negative manner (especially if feedback is given rarely) that a manager should not be surprised when this happens. Attempts to mitigate this negative reaction with “You don’t take feedback well” actually reveals that the manager does not give feedback well. It’s the manager’s reaction to the reaction that shows who “doesn’t take feedback well,” because the manager suddenly diverts the conversation from the performance that original feedback is designed to improve, and it’s the manager’s performance in giving feedback that has proven to be lessened.
So remember, if the employee actually incorporates the feedback, then you are more likely to get that improved performance originally sought after.
3. It’s about the manager’s ego and not the employee’s performance.
When a manager says, “You don’t take feedback well”, this means that the manager is looking for a short-cut to giving performance feedback. The manager’s ego perhaps says, “I can give out feedback so well that employees will not react negatively!” What happens when the employee doesn’t react well? It shatters the manager’s ego. And something must be done about that! The solution? Blame the feedback recipient.
Too often, the manager gives the feedback as part of managerial duties, but does not want to handle any of the likely repercussions about having a conversation focused on improving performance, also part of managerial duties. In this case, the manager is operating in a bubble that says, “I can dish it out, but I don’t have to take it.” In other words, the manager enters feedback conversations with the implication, “I can give performance feedback in such a superior fashion that the employee will immediately say, ‘Yes, I agree and I will incorporate it.’” And when the employee doesn’t react in this way, does it necessarily mean that something is wrong with the employee? Reacting with “You need to take feedback better” indicates that something may be wrong. . . with the manager. When a manager tells an employee they need to take feedback better, it is a form of “wishing away” a problem (the problem of the employee reacting negatively to the manager’s feedback), and this “wishing away” problem is squarely an issue with the manager.
As a result, this is an indicator that the manager is not focused on improving performance and is more concerned about the manager’s self-image.
In my next article, I’ll discuss more things that the tag “You don’t take feedback well” reveals about the manager.