OPINION LEADERS Feedback by Exception

Each week I write an article on some aspect of management for the Christchurch Press. Recently I received an email from great lady called Ann. I haven’t met Ann yet but what makes her great in my book is that she took time to contact me and tell me that she had enjoyed one of my articles and I appreciated that greatly.
She also took time to give me an email tutorial on the use of pronouns as she’d noticed I had made couple of mistakes in their use. In fact, she gave me simple rule to apply when using pronouns which delighted me because I’m aware I get them wrong from time to time. Now I have the means to avoid that.
I was most grateful for her kindness and told her so. She said she was glad to help and pleased that I didn’t take offence. Her remark about taking offence from feedback got me thinking about the whole subject because giving and receiving feedback, positive or negative is thing we don’t seem to handle well, especially in organisations.
How is it possible to take offence when someone has been good enough to take the time to point out something you are doing wrong, thus giving you an opportunity to take corrective action?
Sadly, people do. When I told couple of mates about Ann’s email one of them was quite scathing and said, “Why didn’t you tell her where to get off?”
But think about it, for the past 50 years I have being making the same mistake and at last here is someone who takes time to tell me. There was nothing in it for Ann but plenty in it for me. As I told her, I was probably taught the correct way when at school – but in those days the lady in the desk beside me commanded more attention than the one up front teaching.
Feedback, positive and negative, is the only way we can get better and all of us in leadership positions have coaching responsibility in which feedback plays huge part.
One reason why we get negative reaction to feedback is that too often we get stuck in what I call the “management by exception” syndrome. This follows the principle that if it ain’t broke, you don’t fix it but only take action when things are not going to plan. When this is taken to its conclusion, it means we only let people know when they are doing things wrong. That is why management by exception doesn’t really work – but that hasn’t stopped us trying.
We constantly hear people say that the only time they ever get feedback from the boss is when something goes wrong or they have made mistake.
Ann gave feedback the right way – she said how she enjoyed the article and agreed with the points I was making. She then went on to point out the error of the pronoun, then gave me the coaching to enable me to put things right in the future.
In other words she was saying the article was good and it could have been made even better if I had had the pronouns right.
In our organisations we must constantly catch people doing things right and give them positive feedback, not just the negative stuff. If people are given constant positive feedback they will be far more comfortable when the negatives are pointed out.
When we receive feedback, whatever it is, we need to thank the person for it because they have given us an opportunity to get better – or if it’s positive feedback, make us feel good about what we have done, which leads to repetition.
We must also remember, especially when receiving negative feedback that it is not personal, it is the deed not the doer that is being critiqued.
There is an old saying that feedback is the breakfast of champions – it should be their lunch and dinner as well. Since our job of leading is to grow people, let’s give everyone bit of Ann’s wisdom and watch them blossom.

* Reg Garters FNZIM is CEO of NZIM Canterbury. Email [email protected]

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