ACE: Three Kinds of Feedback
Appreciation, Coaching, and Evaluation
Communications are much clearer if you recognize that there are three kinds of feedback: appreciation, coaching, and evaluation. Every employee needs all three kinds.
Appreciation communicates that you value both the work and the person doing it.
Coaching helps the person adapt, improve, and learn.
Evaluation lets the person know where they stand relative to expectations and what they can expect down the line.
Ask employees what kind of feedback they want and be sure to give it.
An important exception: content novices, or people who are new to a task, often need more appreciation than they realize.
Because coaching and evaluation are usually lumped together under “constructive feedback,” they’re often conflated and that can lead to frustrations for you and the employee.
Side with the Person, Not the Problem
There are three mindsets to avoid.
The “script will save me” mindset is problematic because you’re more invested in delivering your lines and less invested in listening.
Another ineffective mindset is siding with the problem, which makes the employee feel frustrated and unsupported.
The last unhelpful mindset is assuming the employee can’t or won’t change, which makes people feel dismissed as a lost cause.
If you tend to avoid feedback conversations, adopt a growth mindset and assume that the other person can learn and improve.
The most productive mindset is to side with the employee, where you’re looking at the problem together and trying to solve it.
To start the conversation on the employee’s side, focus on a goal the employee prioritizes or the kind of feedback that the employee is seeking.
Watch for the five signs that you aren’t sufficiently focused on the employee:
You don’t know the other person’s goals.
You don’t know what kind of feedback the other person is seeking.
Other people can hear you.
You’re doing all the talking.
You don’t know how the other person sees the situation.
Say Your Good Intentions Out Loud
Having a good intention isn’t enough. You need to voice it when you’re giving feedback.
When feedback is being dished out, employees believe their managers have more bad intentions than good ones.
We tend to “shoot the messenger,” meaning when someone gives us unwelcome news, we like them less and assume they have self-serving or malevolent motives.
We’re especially likely to blame the messenger when we receive negative feedback that’s unexpected.
Although we tend to make up stories about someone’s bad intentions, we rarely make up stories about someone’s good intentions. That’s why you have to make your good intentions known.
As a manager, you’re bound to have mixed intentions. Don’t beat yourself up over it.
When you have mixed intentions, look for the good things you do want for a person and use those as the motivation behind your observation or concern.
Tapping into a person’s worries is another way to help someone see your good intentions—you don’t want their worries to come true.
Listen Like Your Job Depends on It
Listening is your best tool if your feedback is going to be stressful for the other person or requires hard problem-solving on their part.
Remember: listen first, feedback later.
Research shows that when people talk to a good listener, they adopt more reasonable positions, are less defensive, and are more likely to admit their struggles.
When managers listen well, employees seek their feedback and rate them as the best feedback givers.
Just because you’re brilliant at one kind of listening doesn’t mean you’re brilliant at another.
As a manager, you’re probably skilled at critical listening, which involves detecting BS, but in feedback conversations, you need to practice relational listening, which involves taking someone else’s perspective.
If you believe someone else will be boring, they will be. The listener sets the tone.
Show you’re listening by asking person-focused questions. Be curious about the other person’s take.
Validate feelings. If you say, “I can see why you’d feel that way,” you reduce stress, but if you say, “There’s no need to be upset,” you do just the opposite.
3 Practices to Strengthen Your Coaching Muscle
Practice 1: Recognize Each Person’s Strengths
Most managers believe they offer plenty of praise, but most employees disagree.
Praise motivates. When employees’ strengths are recognized every week, they’re more interested in staying and less interested in leaving.
The highest-performing teams receive a whopping 5.6 pieces of praise for every 1 piece of criticism.
Praise and recognition often precede excellent work, not the other way around, and they’re especially appreciated when someone’s still plugging away on a project.
We-strengths elevate the team; me-strengths elevate the individual.
We-strengths need to be praised, and me-strengths need to be used daily.
The classic “feedback sandwich” isn’t a perfect model, but it does get one thing right: people find a criticism more insightful and valuable when it follows genuine praise.
If you can’t find something good to say, don’t say anything at all. Instead, acknowledge hard work and effort.
We inadvertently praise women in vague terms while praising men for skills tied to business and product outcomes.
As a society, we expect women to take care and men to take charge, and we praise them accordingly. You can change that pattern on your team.
Practice 2: Ask More, Tell Less
If you ask follow-up questions, employees will like you more and show greater interest in your advice. Try doubling the number of questions you ask in your one-on-ones.
“What’s the real challenge here for you?” is a great way to help a person zero in on the kind of coaching and advice they need most.
With great power comes crappy perspective-taking. Remember the letter E experiment and realize that when you’re feeling powerful, your brain works differently. You have to work harder to understand someone else’s perspective than you ordinarily would.
It’s especially important to understand the other person’s perspective when they’ve made a mistake, and questions such as “I wonder how you saw it?” can help.
Avoid questions beginning with “Why . . .” because they put people on the defensive. Ask questions that begin with “What . . . ,” such as “What were you hoping would happen?”
A reward circuit in the brain is activated when we receive advice or feedback that brings us closer to one of our goals.
Ask people about their individual goals so that you can hook your advice onto their goals.
When you have specific advice to offer, a good question to ask is “I wonder what would happen if you chose to . . . ?”
Coaching lies along a continuum, where you start with collaboration and move to telling only if collaboration fails.
If you want to guide people to lightbulb moments, get in the practice of asking at least one honest, open question where you have no idea what the person’s answer will be.
Practice 3: Minimize the Threat
Coaching can feel incredibly threatening when someone’s made a mistake.
When a person is feeling stressed and threatened, they can forget the details of something that happened just yesterday.
What feels like obstinance may just be diminished cognitive flexibility. Stress impairs cognitive flexibility, making it harder for someone to move past their first solution.
Remember the SCARF model. By boosting status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, or fairness, you can reduce the threat someone is feeling.
If you know the person who has made a mistake, chances are you should do the coaching one-on-one, not in a group meeting.
Label the behavior, not the person, when you see a problem.
Communicate a growth mindset—that you believe people can change and improve—and it will make feedback less threatening.
When individuals have a growth mindset, they pay more attention to the correct solutions and to the advice you’re offering, making them more likely to learn.
Try using self-referenced behaviors in which you hold up a person’s previous success as a standard and ask how they could achieve that more often.
When you need to have a sensitive personal conversation, acknowledge that it is awkward, voice your good intentions, mention what you’ve noticed, move to your concerns about how it affects their work, and then ask for their thoughts.