We don't do well when someone whose intentions are unclear tells us where we stand, how good we “really” are, and what we must do to fix ourselves. We excel when people who know and care about us tell us when they see something within us that works.
As leaders, how can we help others thrive and excel when research shows that feedback is more distortion than truth? The answer isn't as simple as we might think, and just telling people with radical transparency what we think of their performance doesn’t help them succeed and excel.
To be clear, instruction; telling people what steps to follow or what factual knowledge they’re lacking can be beneficial. That’s why there are checklists in airplane cockpits. Feedback, however, is very different; it's about telling people what we think of their performance and how they should do it better.
Three main assumptions are underpinning the conviction that radically transparent feedback is good:
1) Other people are more aware than you are of your weaknesses, and therefore, they should show you what you cannot see for yourself.
2) You lack specific abilities you need to acquire, so your colleagues should teach them to you.
3) Great performance is universal, analyzable, and describable, and that once defined, it can be transferred from one person to another.
These three assumptions come from self-centered thinking. They take our expertise and what we are sure is other's inexpertness as givens; they assume that 'my' way should be 'your' way.
Instead of providing radically transparent feedback, next time you want to provide feedback, don't focus on 'whys'; “Why didn’t that work?”, “Why do you think you should do that?”. Instead, focus on the 'whats'; “What do you want to have happen?”. “What are a couple of actions you could take right now?”. These questions yield concrete answers and help us grow.