In the last post in this series we explored how to apply the leadership tool of listening. This week, we’re focusing on feedback and the results you can get when you use this tool wisely. Once again, this post isn’t about HOW to give feedback (for that, go here and here). It’s about the results you get when you use this powerful tool.

Good feedback is more than just a “good job!” or a “you suck!”. The best feedback is specific and constructive. Whether you are giving adjusting or affirming feedback, the more specific and constructive you can be, the better.

Feedback is a powerful tool to help people change, and there is a formula to helping that change happen: the 5-to-1 ratio. I’m going to show you how to apply this formula in a different way than we may have talked about before. To do that, let me share a story of a leader who needs to help a direct report change some behavior:

Jill works for Jack. Jill is a great employee overall, but she has a blindspot that Jack has become aware of: She tends to dominate meetings because of her enthusiasm, quick-thinking, and desire to get problems fixed fast. She’s also not a good listener and tends to jump in and interrupt others. Jack appreciates the enthusiasm, quick-thinking, and problem-solving abilities she brings to the team, but when Jill dominates a meeting and interrupts her colleagues, that hurts the team more than it helps, and it hurts Jill’s reputation. Jack sees huge potential in Jill and wants to help her recognize and correct this blind spot without losing the great things she brings to the team. Here is how he uses that 5-to-1 ratio of affirming to adjusting feedback to help Jill:

  1. The initial adjusting feedback: At their next one-on-one, Jack shares his feedback with Jill. He shares the whole picture as he sees it—she brings so many great things to the team, and she has a tendency to dominate the team meetings because of those great things and because she doesn’t listen to her teammates as well as she could. Jack asks Jill to slow down in the meetings, listen to others more, and give others a chance to speak up. Jack can tell that this feedback is tough for Jill to hear, but she takes it well overall, thanks him for helping her see a blindspot, and heads back to work.
  2. Lots of affirming feedback when the person displays changed behavior: Over the next few weeks, Jack pays more attention to Jill’s interactions with others and her behavior at meetings. He makes a point to regularly share specific, affirming feedback when he sees her listening well to a colleague, sharing the air more in the meetings (sometimes sitting on her hands to keep from jumping in!), and letting people speak without interrupting them. Jill still has a ways to go, but Jack doesn’t want to pile on with the adjusting feedback. Instead, he aims for that 5-to-1 ratio to help her understand the behavior he wants to see in her and to encourage her to continue to use the extra energy needed to change her behavior.

Leaders aren’t meant to give affirming feedback just because it’s a nice thing to do. We encourage leaders to give affirming people because it reinforces the behaviors you want to see on your team. Combining adjusting feedback with affirming feedback helps people change for several reasons:

  • It lowers Jill’s anxiety. Jill was just given some difficult feedback, and she’s going to be anxious for a time. Anxiety makes us stupid. By giving her affirming feedback whenever he sees signs of the desired change in behavior, Jack is lowering Jill’s anxiety, which makes it even more likely that she’ll succeed in this change.
  • It brings clarity to Jill and it’s a form of communicating seven times/seven ways. When Jack shares with Jill that he noticed how well she listened to Mary in the meeting, he is communicating again what the desired behavior is and how Jill is doing at making that change.
  • It shows Jill that Jack cares about her and notices the effort she’s putting into making these changes.
  • It helps Jill actually change. Change is hard! Because of the three reasons listed above, Jill is more likely to achieve this change in her behavior when Jack uses the 5-to-1 ratio around this specific change.

Feedback is a powerful tool to shape people’s behavior, which allows leaders to intentionally shape culture, develop the individuals on their teams, build more trusting teams, create clarity in many areas, lower anxiety in a living system, and much more. This week I hope that you will think about how you give feedback. What opportunities do you have to use this tool more effectively? What might be keeping you from giving the feedback that will help those around you grow? How can you move past that?

Lead on,

Image by wuestenigel. Used under CC by 2.0 license.