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One of my biggest pet peeves is hearing about direct reports that receive performance feedback that is NOT based on performance and is NOT based on fact. 

I witnessed this many times during my corporate career and I hear it, also, from my coaching clients.  Here is an example from one of my clients, let’s call her Sue.

Sue is a C-level introvert who excels at her job.  She spent many years learning to leverage her introversion, along with other strengths, to enhance her performance.  When she did all she could on her own she enrolled in coaching so that she could go after a much desired promotion – her current position.

Sue was at a two-day corporate off-site retreat.  Her boss was not present, but her boss’s boss (Angela) WAS present.  Later that week, when Sue returned to the office her boss casually approached her with some feedback that went something like this: “Angela said you were a little standoffish at the retreat.”  That’s it, that’s all that was said!  No further explanation, no context, nothing more about the “standoffish” comment.  Before Sue could even respond her boss then went on to talk about Sue’s introversion, linking it to her “standoffish-ness.”

Ok, so let’s stop here for a minute – “standoffish!” What does that even mean?  Did Sue forget to say good morning to Angela, or something?  And then to imply that her introversion was the reason for the (perceived) standoffish demeanor…..  What was the purpose of this interaction?

Sue was so shocked and taken aback that she didn’t even know what to say.  She felt personally attacked and demeaned, especially after all the hard work she had done to enhance her skill set.  To make matters worse, her boss was interrupted during this interaction and had to pull out of the (one-way) conversation – and, by the way, never wrapped back around to Sue.

Here’s the thing – as a leader you are required to give feedback all the time. 

But come on – make it count, make it meaningful – base it on fact and true performance.   Don’t base it on personality or someone else’s subjective opinion.  Saying that someone is standoffish is simply an observation with no context around the situation.  What does that have to do with performance?  We don’t know because Sue was never told.

Bringing up Sue’s introversion was an attack on her personality.  Again, this was not about performance just another subjective comment and assumption about Sue’s personality.

Please, please…. use the utmost professionalism and tact when speaking to your direct reports.  Your comments will be remembered much longer by them than by you.  And when giving feedback – keep it formal, based on fact, and linked to performance.  Performance feedback should be a discussion, not a statement, and not a one-way interaction.

What has been your experience giving or receiving feedback?