Developing Resilient Leaders
Module 06 Feedback and Psychological Safety
Methods of Managing Conflict & Change
No one likes to deliver bad news to their boss. But that’s exactly what I had to do when a project I’d been working on wasn’t delivering the results we expected. I’d been a big advocate for our team taking on the initiative and, personally, I’d invested a lot of time into it — and convinced others to do the same.
When I met with my manager to present the data, which showed that we hadn’t recouped our investment and the initiative had performed worse than planned, I was nervous. I would’ve understood if she had been frustrated or even angry and I expected her to at least ask “What went wrong?” or “How could we have prevented this?” (both questions I’d prepared answers for).
Instead, she asked a simple question: What did you learn?
I now understand that what she was doing was building psychological safety. She understood that learning was key — my (and her team’s) future performance depended on it. Psychological safety is a critical concept for teams and the people that lead them.
Amy Gallo Harvard Business Review
How to deliver feedback and improve psychological safety
If we only remember one thing, we should make it the “Platinum Rule” – Treat others as they want to be treated. That means delivering feedback in a way that the recipient prefers, not the way we prefer to deliver it, or even the way we would prefer to receive it. To do this, we need to ask how they want to receive feedback. Of course, they may not yet feel psychologically safe enough to be honest with us and may instead tell us what they think you want to hear. But nobody said that this was easy – we must first put the work in to create an environment of psychological safety!
Here are some suggestions for how to effectively deliver feedback that not only increases performance, but also minimizes harm. Really well delivered feedback drives improvement, whilst poorly delivered feedback decreases performance and can cause real damage, sometimes lasting for years afterwards.
Elements of good feedback:
- Well intentioned: It’s important to check in with ourselves and make absolutely sure that our intentions are to help the person improve.
- Non-trivial: Whilst we might be detail-oriented and want to provide every opportunity for our team to improve, no matter how small, it’s important to recognise that frequent, trivial feedback can have a chilling effect on team members’ efforts.
- Truthful: When delivering feedback, first recognise that what you think is not “the truth” – we are not an omniscient god.
- Consensual: Like sex, or tea, feedback should be consensual. We could ask things like: “Are you interested in my observations?”; “Can I share with you something I noticed?”; “Are you open to feedback at the moment?”; “Can we chat about the things we’re both working on improving right now so we can share thoughts with each other about what we’re noticing?”; “Can we discuss some ideas for improvement?”; “How do you feel that went”.
- Actionable: It’s stressful to hear feedback if we don’t know how to act upon it.
- Timely: The further we are in time from an event, the less accurately we remember it, so the best time to learn from something is usually as soon as possible after the event.
- Specific: Unspecific or imprecise feedback causes anxiety. For someone on a driving lesson, hearing “You need to start indicating a few seconds earlier.” is far more useful than “You need to get better at indicating.”
- Private: Public feedback can damage psychological safety and create misunderstandings for other team members who may not be aware of the context.
- From your perspective, not that of others: In general, we should not speak for others in delivering feedback. Saying “Bob’s not happy with this project, and says you need to rewrite the presentation deck.” will make the recipient doubt if that’s really what Bob said and wonder why Bob didn’t say so himself. It also shuts down any opportunity for clarification or conversation.
- A two-way conversation: When giving feedback, make sure there’s time to discuss it in an unhurried way. Ensure the recipient can ask for clarification, or even disagree and reject it.
- Focused: Keep feedback to just one or two key points. It can be hard to absorb feedback, especially if there are multiple messages to take in.
- About behaviors and performance, not personalities or style: This is sometimes difficult to discern. Where does personality end and behaviour begin? We can offer practical feedback on technical or operational tasks, but when it comes to how people communicate and interact, it can be harder. We may feel that someone isn’t communicating well, when in fact it’s simply that we have different personalities, styles, or cultures. We can offer to help someone improve their communication, but we must not try to change who they are.
- Combined with positive encouragement: That’s what feedback should be – an exciting opportunity to do something even better than we did last time.
An extra note for managers:
If you’re a manager, be aware that almost every comment you make can be perceived as “feedback” by your team members, even if you don’t intend it as such. What we intend as throwaway comments can have a big impact on people who look up and/or report up to us.
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For each module there are 5 practical challenges related to module topic. You can complete one, two, or all of them - it's up to you. Through practical involvement and sharing you will strengthen your competence in the specific topic.
Try - Practice - Share and - Enjoy!
01 Host an Anxiety Party in your team
First, everyone spends 10 minutes individually writing down their biggest anxieties. Then, people are given two minutes to rank issues–from most to least worrying.
Next, each person gets to share the anxiety that worries them the most. Colleagues score the issue based on how much it troubles them from a zero (“It never even occurred to me that this was an issue”) to five (“I strongly believe you need to improve in this area”).
After reviewing all fundamental anxieties, it turns out that most are baseless – we usually worry about pointless things. Getting people’s feedback in the form of a score makes the anxiety go away.
Many anxieties can be well-founded, though. Start by addressing the issues that get a 4 or a 5. Discuss with the team what needs to happen and whether it requires an individual or collective behavioral changes.
Share your learnings in the MS Teams channel.
02 Mirror, mirror, on the wall…
Do some self-reflection - ask yourself "What did I do well? What do I think I am good at? What do I think I should improve?" Write it down and hang it visibly at your workplace. Share your result. Share your self-reflection in the MS Teams channel.
03 Failure teaches success
Make some time to find a mistake in your past that turned out to be a valuable lesson. Think about how you were able to turn the mistake into something useful and if you can apply the same technique to mistakes yet to come. Share your thoughts in the MS Teams channel.
04 Get on the list
Make a list on your phone/computer of what you didn't get done today. Think about how to do it differently tomorrow/next time. Make a daily list for at least a week and then share your ideas in the MS Teams channel.
05 Feedback is a gift
Prepare small gifts (even handmade) for your colleagues that express what you appreciate about them. Give them the gifts with an explanation of what the gift symbolizes (e.g. a small chocolate bar to someone who always makes you feel better). Share picture of your gift(s) in the MS Teams channel.