How NOT to Give Feedback

By: LUMO Leaders

- Publish On: April 13, 2023

I wanted to share something that has been on my mind a lot lately – feedback. How we give it and how we receive it. You actually might have just cringed reading the word “feedback” because we often relate to it as scary, devastating, or triggering. It sure can be (as you’ll see below), but what I also know about feedback is that if it is delivered with kindness and generosity, it can be received in a way that allows for everyone to learn, grow and be better. 

So you can imagine my disappointment when my colleague, Debbie*, recently shared her experience with feedback. 

Debbie’s manager, Yolanda*, put a meeting on Debbie’s calendar to discuss an upcoming project. Debbie enjoys what she thinks is a positive working relationship with Yolanda so she is looking forward to moving their project forward.

Zoom opens, the two exchange pleasant greetings and then Yolanda begins to share 45 minutes of “feedback” for Debbie. Debbie was expecting a conversation about the project, so she was completely surprised when Yolanda shared extensive negative commentary on Debbie’s performance, her appearance, and other gaps in her work. In conclusion, she added that she discussed these gaps with Debbie’s colleagues over dinner during their last offsite 

Reader, if you’re gobsmacked you can just imagine how Debbie felt. 

Debbie left the call confused, upset, angry and hurt. Prior to this call, she had been told her work was excellent and she had also received outstanding survey polls from her clients. She also trusted her team so she was shocked to hear they had been talking about her over dinner. Instantly, Debbie began to doubt herself, her experience, her peers and her team. 

Here are a few of my thoughts on what was missing from this situation:  

#1 – Transparency – Yolanda should have told Debbie that she would like to schedule some time to meet because she had feedback she would like to share. This would have allowed Debbie to prepare and come to the conversation ready to listen and reply. Remember what Brené Brown says – clear is kind, unclear is unkind. 

#2 – Give Feedback in Real Time. Debbie has been working with Yolanda for almost a year and has consistently asked for feedback. All the feedback she has gotten thus far has been extremely positive with a few minor places to work on. This is one of the reasons Debbie was so shocked during her conversations with Yolanda. She was under the impression that she was exceeding expectations. Strong, thoughtful  leaders give feedback in real time and their people never leave a feedback session shocked and surprised. My personal rule is that feedback should be given to employees  within three business days. This prevents overwhelming employees with a feedback dump. 

#3 –Leaders talk to their people directly – not “about them” to their peers. This is probably the most offensive and hurtful part of this scenario – Debbie learning that her peers and her leaders were talking about her behind her back.

The heartbreaking part in all of this? All of this could have been avoided if Yolanda had simply implemented the above. 

This experience left a mark. Debbie is planning to circle back and speak with Yolanda to share the impact of their conversation but she is also currently looking for opportunities outside her employer. Her trust has been betrayed and she doesn’t think she can do her best work with this team any longer. This will be a huge loss for Yolanda’s organization. 

Giving feedback is simple but not always easy. It’s actually a skill to develop. Have some leaders in need of feedback training? LUMO would love to help. Respond to this email to get started.

*All names have been changed. 

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