It was a long review discussion. At the end of the conversation my boss paused, took a deep breath and said, “Kamal, would you be open to some personal feedback?” I was caught off-guard. As I have progressed in my career and the only feedback I have received has been on performance which is predictable and easy to comprehend. “Yes boss” I said with curiosity. He said, “I want you to slow down when you are on international calls. You tend to speak in very long sentences and at a pace which makes it hard for people from different countries to comprehend as they are not familiar with the accent and intonations.” “I go through the same feeling when I attend calls from Europe” I shot back. “Do you want me to go for some accent training?”
My voice now at a higher pitch and perhaps showing my anger. “Calm down!” he said, “I am only offering you a suggestion for you to be better understood by your global colleagues”. It was difficult to accept this unsolicited feedback as it hurt my ego given the decades of work experience under my belt. I did not feel it was helping. I sulked over it for two days and struggled to accept it. Maybe consciously or subconsciously I found myself changing my speech pattern. My boss never brought it up again. After multiple stints of overseas work and over the many years, I now recognize that he was never obliged to offer me that feedback but in fact that it has worked in my favor. But back then it did cost me a few drinks to get over my sense of rejection and beaten ego.
In my view behavioral feedback is an unnecessary headache 🙂 for supervisors. It
- creates unnecessary ripples in a healthy working relationship
- causes few unproductive days for the receiver (till he/she accepts it)
- decreases trust (at least momentarily)
It is easy to provide performance feedback as it is easily quantifiable and less personal. To say ‘your sales numbers are poor’, ‘your last quarter’s delivery is below target’, ‘attrition is high’ are relatively easier than telling someone that they are poor team players, or they have average communication skills or that they write too many emails and have a poor time management track record. Performance feedback is easier to manage and provide as it addresses the work related action and so is expected.
However, behavioral feedback is more emotional and appears to attack the person. Most of us are also uncomfortable providing behavioral feedback as we feel our own flaws are exposed in doing so. Our choice to operate in the space of performance feedback disallows us to make an impact on the individual and in turn an opportunity for personal development and professional skills in our staff. I read this quote recently which said:
“If you are not in the arena and also getting your back kicked, you don’t need your feedback”.
Our reportees subtly or openly tell us how they feel about the feedback. When they make attempts to change it indicates a sort of agreement. When they do nothing it indicates that we have not had the credibility to provide valuable behavioral feedback or that they do not necessarily agree with the feedback. It is never easy as behavioral patterns accumulate over many years. As managers we need to exercise patience, understanding and appreciation as people go through the phase from feedback to change. It is a process of change and not a button that can be turned on. Feedback brings in awareness, which over a period of time can result in behavioral change.
As managers and supervisors we tend to sit back and watch from a distance having ‘completed a job’. It is easy delivering feedback to our hapless reportees who have no choice but to listen to us due to the authority vested in us. Have you ever tried giving feedback to peers?
I tried a couple of times was left feeling embarrassed. Once when in a proud moment I thought I would provide some behavioral feedback to one of my peers. He was unresponsive to peer meetings and always late as well, when he did come he would be busy with his phone during meetings. As we wouldn’t have our boss in those meetings he had nobody with authority to tell him, he was becoming a distraction to our meetings; at least in my opinion 🙂 Finally I called him aside to let him know my thoughts on his super busy pretense. He politely asked me to mind my own business. Maybe I crossed the line without authority? Since then I provide feedback only to people in my line of influence 🙂
I believe providing performance feedback only is a great safety net at work for managers and organisations. But for genuine development of individuals, behavioral feedback is necessary. This, provided it is given with utmost sincerity and when the relationship is strong enough to support this. It must be provided when the atmosphere is conducive and without any threat perception to the recipient.
But in reality I believe it is difficult to radically change personal behaviors at work by providing feedback. At best you can contain some bad behavior and prevent it from repeating. Some of our behaviors are so ingrained in us that we need to be reborn to change them.
Think about it, how can our bosses change our behavior through feedback which our parents, siblings, school teachers, friends, partners and children 🙂 could not despite these being more intimate and meaningful relationships?
I have resolved that I would rather not spoil my relationship by providing behavioral feedback. Let my colleagues
- Repeatedly arrive late for meetings, keep ‘WhatsApping’ while in team meetings, send reports late, log into calls late, lie through their teeth
- Be rude to their teammates, talk loud in hallways, gossip, listen to music while answering customer emails
- Spend too much time with computers rather than people, have poor listening skills, dress shabbily, look at phones while you are talking to them
I am not listing the entire laundry list which irritates you, affects work and merits a feedback. I am sure they will learn a lesson sooner or later. Someone is likely to tell them when it gets out of hand or one fine day when they are meditating their conscience pricks them!
Don’t stress yourself on others behavior at work, like you’ they will grow up too, so stop being the police at work.