Despite the track record, business leaders and core workers can learn to give feedback in a way that's useful and that helps people contribute more to the business. To do that, they need to pay attention to three facets of feedback: underlying intent, purpose, and delivery. This article addresses the first facet of feedback -- underlying intent.
Underlying intent can impact how a message gets heard because it represents our true motives. If we want others to accept our feedback, we first need to determine our underlying intent and make sure our motives support feedback in ways that spark positive actions. If we aren't aware of, and committed to, a productive underlying intent, we're likely to undermine our own efforts.
Regardless of how nicely I give feedback, if I do it with intent to punish or make the other person feel guilty, I shouldn't be surprised if things backfire. Chances are the person I'm trying to help will hear my underlying intent as subtle insinuations like, "What's wrong with you?" more than the message that could help him.
The same holds true if my intent is to manipulate -- like getting people to work faster by telling them they need to get something finished sooner than necessary. Dishonesty like this may seem harmless enough. It's just a little white lie, right? But it can cause people to discount what they hear and ruin any chance of them acting on the feedback, not just now, but in the future as well. Manipulative intentions for any reason will destroy their trust and weaken their commitment to the goal.
On the positive side, underlying intent can work in our favor. If my team meets with yours to deal with a problem, and my intent is to serve you and be truly helpful to you so you can have an easier time fulfilling your promises to customers, how might that change our team relationships? Rather than showing your team where you're wrong, focusing on your team and its needs can help both teams accept feedback from each other and collaborate more willingly to solve the problem.
The same principle applies when I try to help an employee improve her productivity. If my intent is to help her do well rather than for me to simply go through the motions in order to justify tougher decisions later, I'll be motivated to work harder to coach and help her succeed, and have better odds that she will.
How To Do It
Good feedback starts with a productive and supportive underlying intent. To get it right, first figure out what you want the person to hear before developing the message, because what the person hears will influence how he or she receives and responds to the feedback. Make sure your intent will move things forward, meaning that if you're successful, the result will benefit the business or team. So, let go of any self-serving agendas that don't benefit the whole. Once you have a clear, useful intent, you'll have a much better chance of providing feedback that gets positive results.
Trying it on for fit:
Assess feedback you've given the past week, both positive and negative. What were you trying to accomplish with it? What were your true motives for giving the feedback and how did they manifest themselves? How did others respond to your feedback? How might your underlying intent have affected how they responded? Make a list of useful underlying intentions to replace any self-serving or otherwise unproductive influences on how your feedback could be heard. Develop feedback with your new intentions and test them on people you trust to get their reactions.
Send an email and let me know what you learn from your experiences. I would love to hear from you!