The Manager’s Perspective
I am about to show you that most managers have some mistaken beliefs about the best kind of feedback to give their subordinates. In a survey of 7,631 managers, my colleague Joe Folkman and I asked whether they believed that giving negative feedback was stressful or difficult and 44% agreed. When talking with managers about giving feedback we often hear comments such as, “I did not sleep the night before,” “I just wanted to get it over quickly,” “My hands were sweating and I was nervous,” and “They don’t pay me enough to do this job.” This result was not surprising to us. But it is not only negative feedback that gives managers pause. A surprisingly large number of managers resist giving their direct reports any kind of positive or negative feedback at all.
We created a self-assessment that measured the following:
- Whether managers avoided or gave any kind of feedback to their colleagues, and
- Their preference for giving positive or negative feedback.
The assessment used 20 paired comparison items to measure managers’ comfort or aversion to giving positive or negative feedback.
The table below shows the results of this assessment on 7,808 people. Keep in mind that positive feedback refers to reinforcing comments, kudos, compliments and general praise. Negative feedback is defined as redirecting and corrective suggestions that correct mistakes or suggest new actions the subordinate should undertake.
Given the anxiety nearly half of leaders have about giving negative feedback, it surprised us to find that an even higher percentage of people avoided giving positive feedback (37%) than negative feedback (21%). We can only conclude that many managers feel that it’s their job to tell their direct reports bad news and correct them when they make a mistake, but that taking the time to provide positive feedback is optional.
Self-Ratings and Effectiveness in Giving Feedback
We also asked each participant to rate themselves on their effectiveness at giving others honest feedback. The chart below shows the percentage that agreed with the statement “I would rate myself as highly effective at providing others with honest, straightforward feedback.” We created the bars by using the two scales, “gives positive and gives negative feedback,” and indicating the “tendency to avoid or give such feedback.” It’s clear from the percentages that those who indicated a preference for giving negative feedback felt they were effective at giving others honest, straightforward feedback. Self-ratings appear to be largely driven by the leader’s comfort giving negative feedback. Unfortunately, this is an erroneous conclusion. Giving only negative feedback diminishes a leader’s effectiveness in the eyes of others and does not have the effect they believe it has.
In the graph above the numbers in parenthesis represent the number of managers in each cell. Given the fact that we were sub-dividing the group, these numbers would ideally be larger. The results are statistically significant and we are comfortable with our conclusions.
Effectiveness in Developing Subordinates
After examining these results, we looked at the broader competency of “Developing Others.” In these results, we found the same trend (see the graph below). We then looked at a rating of overall leadership effectiveness. Again, we found a very similar trend.
Effectiveness in developing others hinges squarely on the leader’s comfort and willingness to provide positive feedback to the subordinates. Giving corrective or negative feedback (or not) makes little difference if there is a clear presence of positive feedback from the leader.
Leaders obviously carry some incorrect beliefs about the value and benefits of different forms of feedback. They vastly underestimate the power and necessity of positive reinforcement. Conversely, they greatly overestimate the value and benefit of negative or corrective feedback. In all, they misjudge the impact negative feedback has on how they are perceived by their direct reports.
Source : Forbes