Feedback and Leadership – Part 1

Every living thing processes feedback constantly. Reactions to its environment, where is food, where is safety, is that a threat? As social animals, our feedback is more complex. Not only do we have biological feedback but we have a ton of social feedback to process. We are constantly scanning body language, verbal cues, written statements, olfactory senses, and more to decide how to react to another person. And we are constantly offering feedback through these same means to other people.

The process of formally giving feedback is hard. How do you overrule your unconscious feedback? What do I say? How do I say it? How will the other person(s) take it? Anyone who tells you it is easy is wrong. That is one of the few absolutes I will use in this series. It takes training and time to become good at giving feedback. Feedback is also something you have to reinforce and constantly earn the right to give. Humans are not simple.

Why should you listen to me?

Who the heck am I that I know anything about this? I have been a middle manager at my work place for 15+ years. I work at Human Kinetics (HK), Inc, a sports, health, fitness, and coaching publisher. HK has been around for over 45 years at this point and was founded by a man whose main mission was to improve coaching. Coaching IS leadership and leadership demands feedback. As a manager, I have quarterly, 1-hour trainings on how to be a good manager that includes how to evaluate and give feedback to my staff. As a publisher of books designed to educate coaches on how to do the same things, whether they are coaching a little league/park district team or coaching professional athletes, HK has many resources on how to be a good coach. Much of our management philosophy is influenced by these books.

I have over 90 hours of management training and access to materials that help professional coaches manage professional athletes. Am I an expert? No. Do I get paid millions of dollars to advise Fortune 100 companies how to manage employees? No. But I have more training than many and due to my employer and their vision, a different viewpoint than many in the business world.

In this series, I am going to explore feedback and give you tools to improve yours. Tools, not answers. There are no simple binary answers here. We are dealing with people. What works in one situation won’t in another. Strategies evolve over time. What works with one person won’t with another. I told you there are very few absolutes. You get a toolbox to help you find the right tool for the right job.

The 0th rule of feedback

I am not aware that feedback has enumerated rules. But if it did, the 0th rule would be “Feedback only matters if the other person wants it.”

For any feedback to be meaningful at all, the person must be willing to listen to it. Otherwise, you are just talking to yourself. Reasons why someone may not want to listen to feedback are: they don’t like you; they don’t respect you; they feel they already know the answer; they are uncomfortable; and more along those lines.

This is the first thing you need to do when giving feedback is making sure the other person wants it. In some situations, the consent is implied. If they want to keep working for you, they can either listen to your feedback, act on it, or leave the job. If they enter a competition that will have feedback, it is assumed they want feedback. But they may not want feedback from you.

Like an performance, you need to know your audience. Do they want feedback? Do they want it in the form you are going to give it? Do they want it from you? Bobby Knight tactics may not be the best choice for a group of 5 year olds playing soccer for the first time. Spend some time getting to know who you are giving feedback to.

Likewise, identify the goal of the feedback. What are they needing/wanting to hear? What is your goal in providing the feedback? This blog is heavily SCA focused so I will use SCA examples.

A common SCA story is the unsolicited feedback. A new person comes to an event and is confronted by someone who offers feedback. “Your clothing should be this way”, “that isn’t a period technique”, etc. At best, the new person ignores the feedback. They didn’t want the input. At worst, the new person runs off never to be involved with the SCA again. You can break down any activity in the SCA that way. The first A&S competition, the first time in armor, whatever.

Spend a few moments finding out about the person, why they are there, whether they even want your opinion. “My friend wanted me to come. I just borrowed this from someone else.” No need to give feedback. Or perhaps after that initial icebreaker, they may want to hear “would you like some advice on that?”

That is your first tip then: “feedback only matters if the other person wants it.” Know who you are giving feedback to, figure out how to approach the situation so they want to receive it, and know the goals of the parties involved.

Coming soon:
Feedback – The Sandwich Method – Part 2
Feedback – Being S.M.A.R.T – Part 3
Feedback – The Halo Effect – Part 4
Feedback- Getting the Most out of A&S – Part 5
Feedback – Miscellany & Conclusions – Part 6

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