Feedback signals that the boss is in charge, start with listening first!
Almost every day I talk about Leadership and learning to listen. We want to talk and explain everything. Also when it comes to giving feedback. But giving feedback starts with listening.
One reason that giving feedback (even when it’s positive) often backfires is because it signals that the boss is in charge and the boss is judgmental. Research shows that listening seems to make an employee more relaxed, more self-aware of his or her strengths and weaknesses, and more willing to reflect in a non-defensive manner. This can make employees more likely to cooperate (versus compete) with other colleagues, as they become more interested in sharing their attitudes.
Going back to giving feedback, of course we do not claim that listening must replace feedback. Rather, it seems that listening to employees talk about their own experiences first can make giving feedback more productive by helping them feel psychologically safe and less defensive.
Here are some suggestions:
Give 100% of your attention, or do not listen. Put aside your smartphone, iPad, or laptop, and look at the speaker, even if they do not look back at you.
Do not interrupt.
Do not judge or evaluate. Do not pretend to listen.
Do not impose your solutions.
Ask more (good) questions. One of the best questions you can ask is, “Is there anything else?” This often exposes novel information and unexpected opportunities.
Reflect. When you finish a conversation, reflect on your listening and think about missed opportunities — moments you ignored potential leads or remained silent versus asking questions. When you feel that you were an excellent listener, consider what you gained, and how you can apply this type of listening in more challenging circumstances.