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4 Ways to Give Feedback That Rips the Blinders Off

Feedback is something that we all know is extremely important, yet often we shoot from the hip. Where there should be leadership intentionality there is leadership immaturity.  How can you provide feedback that makes a difference? What if your goal is to provide feedback with enough impact people drop their “I’ve got it all together act” and start to see themselves as others see you them.  For this to happen you must become someone who can walk into a situation and see things that others do not see, giving people penetrating insight into the situation. 

There is a law firm in New York that has an interesting promotion process from being an associate to become a partner in the law firm.  Once you have been an associate for three years you can apply to become a partner. This is a panel interview process made up of current partners. If you are denied you must wait one year plus one day to re-apply. If you are denied the second time once again you must wait one year plus one day before reapplying.  If you are denied the third time you are terminated from the firm.  There was an associate who had made the three-year requirement and applied to become partner. He was denied. This was not a surprise as he anticipated this process to be challenging.  Over the next year he volunteered for additional pro bono work and was intentional with looking for cross-functional opportunities. He reapplied to become partner. He was denied the second time. Over the course of the next year he took on more international work. His heavy travel schedule cost him his marriage. His health was also deteriorating. He submitted for his third and final time to become partner. He was denied again and terminated.  As he was leaving with his belongings in hand he stopped at his friends office that was a partner on the panel interview team. He asked his friend if after the first interview they knew he wouldn’t become a partner? His friend replied, “Yes”.  He then asked, “Why didn’t you tell me that.”  The friend replied, “I didn’t want to hurt your feelings.” The absence of meaningful feedback cost this employee his marriage, his health and his career.

If we are honest with ourselves, we have all found ourselves wanting to give meaningful feedback but didn’t because we did not want to hurt our friends feelings.

There are 4 guiding ideas for giving feedback so meaningful that it results in ripping the blinders off without making people resent you.

1.     Discuss your commitment to the employee at the very beginning – More often than not feedback is misunderstood not because of “what” you have said but “why” they think you have said it. It is imperative that you bring the skill set of backbone and heart into this conversation. Backbone being defined as the ability to call out the hard issue. Heart being defined as your ability to stay connected with the person even when the relationship is mired in conflict.

2.     Separate intent versus impact – A natural response to meaningful feedback is to excuse or explain their intent. Be crystal clear your feedback is based on observable impact and not questioning their intent. This sets the employee up to be curious and ultimately take responsibility for their impact.

3.     Be direct and let them know: “Now I am going to be challenging!” – By announcing that you are going to be challenging, people get the message but do not take it personally or resent you for it. Great leaders deliberately make challenging statements to jar people from their every day view and invite them to see things differently.

4.     Recognize them for who they are, not just for what they do – Great leaders go beyond recognizing just the task. Meaningful feedback connects their unique qualities of excellence to what they do. To acknowledge someone, a leader might say, “I want to recognize you not only for the work you put into your presentation, but also for your attention to detail. I can tell detail is important to you.”

Giving high-quality feedback has more to do with caring enough about people to tell it like it is that it has with having a particular skill or technique.
— Robert Hargrove, Executive Coach

Meaningful feedback involves having the ability to acknowledge people for who they are and what they are capable of and being willing to have the tough conversations. 



A C.H.E.A.P. Approach To Impact


By Johnny Karls, CPCC


For me, it started at 27. I was a student in a “Realize Your Gifts” class. As would seem appropriate, during the 6-week engagement we were to participate in a peer assessment. The assignment was to give this questionnaire to five people--individuals who knew me well and would care for me enough to give honest feedback.


I chose my cohorts carefully, truly seeking both confirmation of what I already knew and perhaps an insignificant blind spot or two. My trusted feedback-providers filled out a multiple-choice questionnaire along with a single page of written answers.


The time came when the aggregated feedback was given to me. I remember as if it were yesterday. As I read the first assessment it was obvious that there was a distribution mistake: this was clearly about someone else. I went to the second assessment - the answers were very similar to the first, but again, it couldn’t have been my assessment. The third document the same, and so forth. And then it hit me: these were about me! What?


"It's not what you know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so."                                                                                                                                  Mark Twain


I was shocked twofold, first at how I was perceived and second that I had been so unaware. Some of the feedback was disappointing, although much of it was surprisingly positive and encouraging. Here’s the point: That day changed my life because it was then that I deeply realized the value of receiving feedback. I learned that without others’ perspectives, I’m just living a fictitious reality.


Since then, I have participated in several similar assessments. Because of awareness and a commitment to continued improvement, the feedback has gotten better (and less surprising) over the years. I’ve come a long way, baby…and I’ve got a long way to go. The truth really can set you free.


Recently I was leading a workshop with a similar theme. I asked the group of sales people, “If there were an obvious trait that you didn’t realize about yourself, but that your colleagues could clearly see, would you want to know?” After giving a moment for reflection I randomly chose a person and rhetorically asked, “Frank, would you want to know?” A wise-guy in the group quickly blurted, “There are plenty of things that Frank needs to know.” Laughter. The opportunity was perfect. I said to the unsuspecting patsy, “Steve, did you realize you’ve been clicking your pen non-stop for the past 20 minutes and everybody in the room wants to put your hand in a paper shredder?” The group response: pure joy that somebody outed the annoying pen guy! Awareness is the beginning of change. With awareness we then have choices.


Let me suggest 5 ways constructive feedback could be a huge advantage to your life. We’ll call these benefits C.H.E.A.P. Here’s what you’ll get:


1) Clarity – If you don’t know the truth, how can you improve?

2) Humility – You should be prepared for some hard, uncomfortable truth; but remember, having weaknesses does not make you weak. We’ve all got them so get over it!

3) Encouragement – You will also learn more about strengths you didn’t know you had, which can be extremely encouraging.  

4) Approachability – Influence begins with relationship. People that are open to feedback tend to be safe and trustworthy.

5) Power – All of this leads to power. The power to influence is in direct correlation with one’s willingness to receive feedback.


Receiving honest feedback-and utilizing it appropriately-may be the easiest, most powerful thing you can do to maximize your impact. Be that person who seeks and receives feedback well.  

Kind Truth

People are desperate for the kind truth.
— Patrick Lencioni

Get the Most Out of Executive Coaching

(Excerpts from Steven Berglas article)

What should you do if you think you want to change and, like so many of your peers, put your faith (and a huge financial commitment) in a coach? Is it possible to develop an authentic commitment to executive coaching through sheer willpower alone? No. But what you can do is develop a mindset — i.e. new “automatic” cognitive messages — that will help you counter your own resistance to change.

What follows are the exercises I use most often to help new clients initiate coaching with the best mindset possible. If, prior to the onset of coaching you experience the attitude adjustments they are designed to foster, the change process should be profoundly less anxiety- and resistance-provoking for you than it is for those who dive in unprepared.

1. Ask yourself, “Cui bono?”

The best way to reduce the possibility of being stung by an executive coach’s constructive critical feedback is to remind yourself that it is (a) not ad hominem and as such, (b) comparable to the club pro’s efforts to correct your slice. To do this with ease, learn to employ the Latin phrase “Cui bono?” — literally, “as a benefit to whom?” — after each critique you receive. The rational portion of your brain knows that no competent coach would gratuitously put you down. Now you need to train the more primitive, more reactionary parts of your brain to think that way too. By making “Cui bono?” the mantra you bring to assessment sessions with your coach, you can learn to accept that any and all feedback from him or her is intended to be helpful, not hurtful.

2. Be sure you wouldn’t rather hire a cheerleader than a coach.

Many consultants and coaches know that they can build lucrative client bases by treating protégés the way Little League coaches deal with their pre-teen charges: Everything the kid does evokes a “good job” or “atta boy!”

The problem with an automatic “good job” reaction is that it is useless and often — even by pre-teens — seen for what it is: Balm for under-developed egos. An 11-year-old with burgeoning self-esteem would much rather hear “keep your eye on the ball” after striking out than “good job,” but if you want to hear cheering regardless of how you perform, caveat emptor. An ethical coach doesn’t bring pom-poms to meetings with clients, so hire to your needs. 

3. Learn the difference between participation and commitment.

Having spent 30 years as a psychotherapist and coach, I can assure you that acting the role of a “participant in a change process” is not nearly the same as being committed to actually changing yourself. Many people claim to be involved in a change process when, in fact, they are holding their true selves in abeyance. 

Coaching cannot change you one iota unless or until you’re really committed — until you have skin in the game. Before I work with a client who needs to make major changes, I share the aphorism my baseball coach once told me to drive home the distinction between authentic commitment vs. going through the motions: “There’s a huge difference between participating in baseball and being committed to it; it’s like a bacon and egg breakfast. The chicken participates in the breakfast. The pig, on the other hand, was fully committed.”

Since you won’t change unless you really want to, and nothing — not the highest-priced coach or public declarations about your intention to change (which, presumably, will humiliate you if you fail) — will help you to succeed, it behooves you to learn how to thwart your worst tendencies in advance of tackling change. This is what cartoonist/philosopher Walt Kelly, in his possum persona,Pogo, was referring to when he said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” If you accept this fact of life, coaching — and every other change process you initiate — will become surprisingly simple.