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Most People Misunderstand Feedback

It isn't surprising to find articles that tell managers to stop giving feedback. Most managers love those articles because it gives them permission to stop doing something that they don't like doing. If I could find a bunch of articles that eating vegetables is bad for me, I'd share them with my wife in a heartbeat.

I was disappointed to read an article in Harvard Business Review co-authored by Peter Bregman, someone whose work I usually enjoy very much. This article makes the common mistake of feedback that gives managers this out they want, but shouldn't take.

In essence, they think that feedback is the same thing as criticism. If this were true, I would agree with them wholeheartedly. It is not true and is one of the most damaging fallacies in the study of management.

True feedback is a mixture of positive and negative. Done properly, managers would give more positive than feedback. After all, most employees do more good things than bad.

Positive feedback is just as helpful as well. Employees want to know what they are doing well so they can repeat those behaviors. My favorite example is that even though my wife knows I love her, I still say it to her (in addition to showing it). It's nice to hear it.

The other big mistake the article makes is making feedback a significant conversation. Feedback shouldn't take longer than 30 seconds. Any more than that and you are not giving feedback, you are coaching. Coaching in many instances is overkill.

The next time you read an article like this, pay attention to how they classify feedback. If they assume that feedback is all negative, then realize the article is starting from the wrong premise and any conclusions are invalid.

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