"I am so frustrated at work," Peter moaned to his wife. "The only time I hear from my boss is when there is a major problem. Would it kill him to give me a pat on the back once in a while?"
According to the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) March 2003 survey, only 5% of the respondents felt that the quality of the feedback they received from their bosses about their performance was very effective. Nearly all of the respondents said that feedback was important, and almost 75% said they gave feedback to their direct reports on a regular basis.
However, more people say that they are not receiving feedback. What's wrong with this picture?
Giving and receiving feedback in the work environment is often rife with problems. As George Bernard Shaw said, "The greatest problem with communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished."
Many of us are living in a blind spot about our ability to communicate and our ability to give effective feedback. "CCL defines feedback as information-both positive and negative-that lets you know how you are doing. It allows you to understand exactly what you did and what impact it had on others." The report continues: "Feedback is most effective when it is given on an ongoing basis."
Ann Flaherty, a clinical psychologist, a certified feedback specialist and executive coach for CCL, says that feedback serves several purposes:
* It lets you know how you measure up in your daily work.
* It reinforces goals or changes you are making, boosts self-confidence and encourages you to continue.
* It informs you regarding whether you are learning new skills.
* It provides valuable information about mistakes or career setbacks.
The frustration on the issue of feedback gets even more intense in the job market. There are problems getting feedback from hiring managers, difficulties in giving constructive feedback to candidates from the hiring company and challenges in getting a candidate to accept and use feedback in order to achieve success in the job market.
Mark was in the recruiter's database as a likely candidate for a direct marketing manager position for a large continuity mailer in Connecticut. Mark had been out of work for over a year, was playing "house husband" and was highly motivated to change his situation. When the recruiter and Mark met in person, Mark came across as aloof. The recruiter encouraged him to be friendly during the interview. She discussed with him the technique of matching his demeanor with that of the interviewer.
After the interview, the recruiter was disappointed to hear from the HR director that Mark exhibited an attitude problem. He acted superior to everyone he met at the hiring company.
The recruiter once again discussed this with Mark. She sympathetically suggested that he could be coming across as aloof as a result of the other positions he had not been successful in winning. Instead of hearing the feedback and facing the need for change in himself, Mark countered every comment with an objection including, in his words, that everyone he met was an idiot. Needless to say, the recruiter flagged Mark's profile as one not to present to future prospective clients.
Some people, however, know how to incorporate feedback and make the changes that are important to their career.
Cameron was very excited about his final round of interviews for a director-level management position with a major direct mailer. He was sure he would get an offer. After his last interview, he called the recruiter and said he had come across as positive, direct and to-the-point-attributes he felt were important for success.
However, Cameron lost the position to another candidate. What went so wrong?
He was stunned and asked the executive recruiter for feedback. While he thought he needed to portray a no-nonsense, "buck stops here" persona, Cameron alienated the interview team that valued a culture of process, inclusion and team effort.
Cameron took this information and incorporated it into making changes in his interview style. He also spent a lot of time becoming conscious of the image he projected by practicing simulated interview situations with trusted friends who offered him honest critique. They were frank about what he needed to improve but also were clear about what he did right. With such a balanced approach, he learned to build on his strengths and address and overcome the negatives.
One change he made comfortably was to project the softer side of his personality-humility, compassion and inclusiveness. Cameron was no longer consumed with being a buck-stops-here person. He became more and more relaxed in interviews during his job search. Shortly after this he landed a position similar to the one he had lost, in a company where he enjoys mutual respect from his peers and direct reports. Now he is working on fostering and growing a team environment.
"Superior performers intentionally seek out feedback; they want to hear how others perceive them, realizing that this is valuable information," states Daniel Goleman in his highly acclaimed book, "Working With Emotional Intelligence." "That may be part of the reason people who are self-aware are also better performers. Presumably their self-awareness helps them in a process of continuous improvement."
Receiving feedback can be very helpful in transforming the negative aspects of your personality, skills or abilities as a team player. Helpful, of course, if you look at your blind spot, take down the defenses…and change.
VICTORIA JAMES is president of Victoria James Executive Search Inc., Stamford, CT.
CONNIE LaMOTTA is president of Workplace Strategies Associates, Upper Nyack, NY.