Do you Professionally Pout?

Photo of young girl with a pouting face

We all love giving and receiving compliments. But feedback? When you hear I’d like to share some feedback with you, do you suddenly feel a knot in your stomach? Especially if it’s personal? That’s a far cry from a compliment – it can be downright tough. But feedback is a gift and great leaders are generous with it.

According to Harry Kraemer, former chairman and CEO of Baxter International Inc., author and professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, feedback may be a misnomer. A colleague once said, ‘It should be called feed-forward’.

Kraemer says giving good feedback is hard because We like to be liked. And so we avoid anything that resembles conflict. He suggests a better way to think of feedback is to focus on being respected. His premise is that will lead to a better chance of being liked in the long run.

In addition to face-to-face communication, we can use the 360° feedback method. We’ve both participated in 360° feedback several times — giving and receiving. Our results usually were like those of many other senior-level women — we were viewed by others as being defensive. For ambitious women, this was hard to hear. We liked to think we have poker faces but have found out we really didn’t. Yet, we knew there was truth in the perception. We both had to learn to recognize it and to stop it — easier said than done.

When I would behave in a way that was viewed as defensive and was told as much, I would hold onto that and behave differently in the next meeting — but not in the right way. I would be more reserved and not as transparent or bold. It was a vicious cycle: Get defensive — be embarrassed — shut down. It was my way of professionally pouting. It took self-awareness, which is the key to growth, and a determined effort to move forward. I conditioned myself to stop and think before speaking, to make sure a sharp-tongued response didn’t slip out. I learned the words that set people off and avoided them. Instead of saying, “I strongly disagree with that decision,” I might say, “Have we considered?” or “A potential solution may be …” By taking the “I” and “you” out and having evidence ready to support my viewpoints, I turned that negative feedback into something constructive. Although it is always a work in progress.

Just as ignoring negative feedback can hold us back personally and professionally, shying away from giving it when necessary erodes our credibility as a leader. It might be difficult to tell team members something you know they don’t want to hear but consider that a good sign. It means you care enough to give them useful information that they need for growth and development. In fact, if you are going to get pleasure out of giving negative feedback you might want to rethink your motive for giving it. If it’s to get back, get even or get revenge, don’t give it. The goal should always be improvement – helping another. Feedback should always come with good intent, which should be to help our team members progress and advance. What’s the best piece of feedback you’ve ever received?