Tag Archives: feedback

The Art of Non-Defensiveness

My sister once commented to me that, “it is a better life to not get offended easily.”

She was complimenting me on my own ability to hear feedback and not get defensive. This was ironic to me since I was strongly criticized in my early career for being too defensive. What happened? What changed?

The label of defensiveness is a straight-jacket. The more you struggle against it the more it seems to constrict. Once I was labeled I realized that even the slightest counterargument, explanation, or justification for my actions would be viewed as defensive. At first this infuriated me. It felt as though my only response to criticism had to be to sit down, shut up, and take it.

And in a way that was true.

But over time it became incredibly liberating. I realized that my explanations never really convinced anyone. My defensiveness (justified or not) never made me look better in anyone else’s eyes. It only served my own ego.

On the contrary, not defending myself (no matter how much I agree or disagree) turns out to impress people. Thanking others for criticism amazes them even more.

It isn’t that I don’t feel the defensive impulse. Rather we can all practice alternative behaviors.

I like to keep things simple. When I receive feedback I rely on two statements.

  1. Tell me more.
  2. Thank you.

Afterwards I can always decide what I agree or disagree with. But during the conversation my focus is not on finding what is right. My focus is on hearing and appreciating the difficult message the other person has to deliver. (Or at least, that is my focus when I am my best self. After all, I’m still on this journey too.)


Revolutionary Performance Management

Most companies spend this time of year categorizing their employees.

  • Far Exceeds Expectations
  • Exceeds Expectations
  • Meets Expectations
  • Does Not Meet Expectations
  • Fire At Will

Okay. Maybe that last one is phrased differently. But the meaning is pretty close.

And because these categories are really developed for legal purposes – as a paper trail to show that income and promotion advancements are based on track records of success, lots of people get miscategorized. If you have eight people on your team and seven of them are stars, four of those seven will likely still receive a “Meets Requirements”.


Because that’s the way the system was designed. It’s not really about how you performed relative to expectations. It’s about how you performed relative to your peers. In a year where everyone on the team excelled, you’ll have 10% in the top category, 25% in the next group, 50% in the middle, 10% in category 4 and 5% fearing for their jobs. And in a year where everyone on the team failed miserably you’ll have the same breakdown by category.

And poor managers everywhere then have to explain to exceptional performers why they are only a “Meets”. Or bolster a moderate performance to look like an “Exceeds”.

Why again?

The answer (at least in part) is we are afraid of an honest conversation about comparisons. The system is created for the sole purpose of making comparisons but we are petrified about discussing this openly. (Even though usually everyone knows. I mean, come on, you know who the best performer is in your team or company or department. Don’t you?)

So here’s the revolution. Tell the truth using two scales.

Keep the Far Exceeds, Exceeds, Meets, Does Not Meet, Fire scale. And don’t apply a bell curve. Actually allow people to be rated as what they really were.

Then also apply a ranking.

“Sally, you were a Far Exceeds and the #2 performer on this 10 person team this year.”

“Jared, you were a Meets and the #10 out of 10 on your team.”

Now we can have an honest discussion. You want to be #1? Here’s what you probably have to do. Of course, I can’t make any promises, because it also depends on what others do.

Of course, this is just a crazy idea from a guy who thinks people actually want to hear the truth.

Separate the Plus and Minus

It’s getting to annual review time. That wonderful time when (some) managers unload all the feedback they’ve been storing up all year.

In my coaching I deliver 360 feedback to my clients. So I know a bit about delivering a deluge of feedback information. And there is one technique that is more powerful than anything else I’ve learned over the years.

Separate out the positive.

Make your performance management meeting into two meetings. Spend one meeting telling your employees nothing but all the things they do that make them valuable. Tell them all the places they are most wonderful. (Even your poor performers have things they do well. Spend this whole conversation talking about those positive places.) Ask them to set a goal for how they will leverage their strengths in the year to come. Do this before they get the rest of their review. We are all too fixated on fixing our problems. Once you discuss the problems the strengths become all but irrelevant. So stay in the positive until you have a strengths based goal.

Then have the regular performance management meeting in which you review all the data – both positive and critical. Refer back to the strengths often.

We may be grown up, but we are not rocks. We are not islands. We still seek approval. And we get far too little of it. Give your employees a whole meeting of nothing but the positive and see how they soar as a result.


Stress Free Truth

Wouldn’t it be nice to tell people how you really feel? I don’t mean unloading on someone you hate. I mean telling someone the thing you know is a problem but feel it’s too uncomfortable to actually say. For example,

  • You talk too much and never show interest in other people’s stories.
  • You have bad breath.
  • You take credit for other people’s work.
  • You never tell us how well we are doing, only what’s going wrong.

What if you could say these things to your boss and even get responses from him/her, but do it all in complete anonymity?

Whatever you want, the internet now seems to provide. Tellyourbossanything allows you to have exactly that conversation with your boss (or anyone else for that matter). Just remember, the website won’t identify you, but your comments might. So you can tell your boss anything in full anonymity, but if you want to complain about your spouse’s snoring, you’re still out of luck.

Feed Up

“Can I give you some feedback?”

This statement seems to strike dread into so many hearts. Not yours? What if you are saying it to your boss? How about your boss’s boss? Generally once we go a level or two up the food chain this question becomes extremely uncomfortable.

One reason for this is that the question changes the power dynamic. Your boss’s boss is above you on the ladder. Feedback is supposed to flow downward. “Can I give you some feedback?” is a question that shifts the power status toward equality. Your boss’s boss might not be ready or willing to make that switch.

Instead, try this: Am I allowed to give you feedback?

This is a very different question. It opens up the dialogue about the discomfort and fear associated with speaking up. It recognizes the power imbalance and enables you to start with the implications of that power gulf and not with the feedback itself. It offers you the chance to say that giving the feedback is incredibly unnerving.

And it gives your boss’s boss (or whomever else you ask) the opportunity to set the rules, to settle into the shift in power dynamics more comfortably.

Who knows? Maybe this is the conversation you’ve both been itching for.


What is the #1 impediment to getting better? To seeking, hearing, and appreciating feedback?

Answer: Your ego convincing you that you should feel ashamed for not being perfect.

How Positive Is Too Positive

I talk about positive thinking a lot, but is there a limit? Should we avoid talking about what to improve and only discuss our strengths?

Absolutely not.

That would be a pendulum swing too far in one direction. We can’t continue to grow in our professions and in our relationships if we don’t examine our mistakes and areas for improvement. However, I have yet to come across an individual or an organization who spends more time on the positive than the critical.

If I give you 5 pages of praise with 2 sentences of criticism, I’m willing to bet you’ll spend more time on the criticism than the praise.

We need to spend more time in our strengths. And we need experiences that have no “but” to them.

  • You’re good at this but bad at that.
  • I think you’re smart but you don’t do this thing well.
  • I like you but you’re not perfect.

There will always be time for the critique. And I’m all for asking for critical feedback. Just make sure you are also spending some time in 100% pure positive. That is an experience we could all use more of.