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Thursday, May 2, 2013

CASE STUDY: Taking the Sting Out of Feedback

Marcia sat and reflected intently on her direct reports’ assessments of her leadership performance.  She’d taken the unusual and risky step of giving her team permission to provide feedback to her about her management style.  She promised them no repercussions for their honesty, and she assured them if there was consensus on any behavioral issue, she would consider making changes.  Initially, her team was reluctant to share.  She found this odd since she thought she’d created a culture of transparency and candidness.  Eventually five of the eight came forward and shared their observations.  Much to her surprise, she heard words like “overbearing”, “pushy”, “blunt”, and “demanding”.  They said everything but “micromanager”, she thought, which she realized had been thinly veiled by the other words they’d used.
            Marcia was dismayed.  She hadn’t realized she was perceived negatively by her team.  Sure, she could be a bit demanding at times, she thought.  But she had high standards, and she assumed they’d want to hold themselves to the same quality expectations.  She found the assessments to be a bit harsh, and they certainly stung when she heard them.  Her first impulse was to become angry and retaliatory.  But then she remembered a recommendation that a friend made once when it came to responding in tense situations—T.H.I.N.K. first.
            The acronym offered ideal guidance on any behavior that might prompt a defensive response as a result of receiving negative feedback.  Though hearing comments that are less than glowing can be painful, Marcia realized it would be unfair of her to invite people to speak openly, and then penalize them for doing what she’d asked.  She swallowed her pride, steeled herself against the verbal blows, and decided to T.H.I.N.K.  The concept forced her to ask valid questions about the feedback.  As she asked and answered them honestly to herself, she felt the sting lessen.  The questions went like this:
·         T=True. Was what they said True?  With five of the eight making similar comments about her in separate meetings and apart from each other, she decided they must be true.  Moreover, when she thought about it for a minute, the examples they gave of her overbearing behavior seemed valid.
·         H=Helpful.  Was what they said Helpful?  She agreed they were because she now had valuable feedback that could benefit her in becoming a better leader if she chose to push vanity aside and recognize her shortcomings.
·         I=Inspiring.  Was what they said Inspiring?  Yes, she thought, because they encouraged her to make the necessary changes to improve her leadership style.  She planned to step back a bit and give her team the space to perform without her constant prodding.  She would show them that she trusted them to do their jobs.
·         N=Necessary.  Was what they said Necessary?  Yes, she believed again, because she was killing morale around the office, and she needed to know that.
·         K=Kind.  Was what they said Kind?  Again yes.  No one was rude or malicious in their intent.  They responded to her request honestly but gently.  They chose their words carefully, and as difficult as it was for them, they delivered negative feedback in the most constructive way they could.  With that in mind, Marcia decided to receive it in the spirit in which it was given.
            When Marcia decided to T.H.I.N.K. first, she tempered her potentially adverse reaction so that the team felt more comfortable giving her meaningful comments in a difficult conversation.  Without realizing it, she was also creating the environment that she thought she’d already established—one that was open and honest.  Marcia could now excel as a leader.  Next time you’re evaluated, T.H.I.N.K. first and permit yourself to grow from what you know.