Previously published on Forbes.com
Millennials want to be in ongoing communication with their bosses. They want to know how they are doing and what they can do to improve. But don’t give them “constructive” feedback. It won’t do what you think it should.
Now don’t get me wrong. Millennials do want to be coached at work. However, that’s not the same thing as offering feedback.
Offering feedback is rarely the right way to create real change. And even though there are a variety of “techniques” out there that are supposed to help us get better at giving feedback, they overlook a basic reality: As David Rock, author of Your Brain at Work, has said, “Feedback creates a strong threat response in the brain.” Employees are hyper-sensitive to anything that feeds their “negativity bias”— the tendency to react defensively to anything the brain views as a threat. Rock continues, “The simple statement, 'Let me tell you what others have been saying about you' is one of the fastest, easiest and most consistent ways to make someone deeply anxious. As constructive as you try to make it, feedback packs a punch. The result is that most feedback conversations revolve around people defending themselves.”
Those who are doling out the feedback tend to get positional. We assume we know the way something should be done, or what another person should or shouldn’t be doing. In short, we are firm in our belief that we are “right” about the right way to do something. And we generously offer our feedback so that the subject of our feedback might become illuminated and see the light. We know from design thinking and innovation that there are many “right” ways to do something. In fact, there are thousands of right ways to think, to approach and to solve problems. Many you have never even considered. You aren’t going to encourage millennials to innovate and problem solve by telling them how they should do it.
Unfortunately, feedback has become an integral part of the performance management process at nearly every mid to large size organization in the U.S. Annual reviews are like a post-holiday diet — you’ve got to do them, even though there is no evidence that it makes any lasting difference.
So here’s an idea: Let’s stop offering it! But what about millennials who want to know if they are doing a good job or not? They are used to giving and receiving opinions in real time. They get responses in just a few moments after posting a picture on Instagram. They need you to talk to them, to encourage them and to help get them back on track if they veer off course. These are things that a good manager needs to provide to their team and their peers. And you can learn to do this without using the “F” word.
Share Perspective, Not Feedback
Instead of feedback, offer your perspective. And know that it is only one perspective — no more or less true or right than any other perspective. That ought to be a bit humbling. Sharing your perspective can encourage growth, expand development and change limiting behaviors. To have your perspective listened to, here are five steps to consider:
Step 1. Ask for Permission
Start with the ask: “I have a perspective I would like to share. Would you be willing to hear it?” Giving someone a choice in the matter about whether to hear what you have to say eliminates the chance of catching them off guard, reducing defensiveness and resistance.
Step 2. State Your Intention
Name your intention and why it matters to you to communicate your perspective: "I am sharing this with you because I want to see you win as a project leader.” Your intention provides a backdrop for how the listener could listen to you. What you are really saying is, “I’m for you. I want you to be successful, and I have confidence in you.” Millennials want to know that the people they work for can be trusted to be a source of mentorship and have their best interests in mind.
Step 3. Talk about Behavior
Point to any behavior that you think may be contradicting a person’s overall goal: “During the last three meetings we held, I noticed you were quiet and seemed to be holding back.” This gives the person listening a piece of data that they can relate to — a specific moment or event they can recall, allowing them to pinpoint their behavior. And that allows the mind to latch onto a tangible incident that a person can work toward changing.
Step 4. Highlight the Impact of the Behavior from Your Perspective
Share what you imagine the impact of behavior might be: “When you hold back, I sense that we lose your perspective and knowledge. It seems like it might impact the results we can produce as a team.” This is the gold in sharing your perspective. Here, you allow yourself to see the difference this person makes, positively or negatively. By sharing your perspective, you remind people that what they say and do impacts others. This information may have been in their blind spot.
Step 5. Make a Request for Moving Forward
Request what you would like to see moving forward: “I have a request that at our next meeting, you speak up about your ideas on the status of our collective projects.” This gives the person a specific direction to take. It explains what might be more productive moving forward and what new behavior may make a difference. It gives the person something clear and focused to work towards.
Millennials offer so much hope for our future. Let’s provide them with perspectives that allow them to make their highest and best contribution at work.