Richard can care less what others think about him. Sure, he occasionally hears rumors that some people despise his brutal honesty—“straightforwardness,” he calls it. And that he is “difficult.” So what. He accepts nothing less than excellence. If a few whiners have to put up with the way he is, so be it. His sales are high. His customers love him. In fact, he’s responsible for the vast majority of the company’s profits.
Then his boss brings Terri in. A coach. Ha! He doesn’t need someone to soften him, change him. He’s already successful, and so is the company. So why mess with a good thing?
Thankfully, I have rarely worked with such a client. I would have my work cut out for me! If there’s one thing I’ve learned about coaching, it’s that skillful feedback, while necessary, doesn’t always work. Here are some common scenarios when one might as well keep thy mouth closed:
When the person is not motivated to change.
Richard is about as motivated as my kid is to clean the bathroom (that’ll be the day). Change can be dirty work, especially because it requires awareness on the individual to look deep inside the self and see what others see. I don’t know about you, but I usually look prettier when looking at my dirty bathroom mirror—before I’ve put my contacts in. Similarly, if people are not motivated to change, either because they don’t see themselves clearly or because they don’t see an obvious link between behavior change and reward, then feedback is pointless. Only those who care are likely to take steps forward.
When feedback comes from someone whose opinion they don’t care about.
Sure, some might desire feedback, but if it comes from someone they don’t care about, then it usually isn’t powerful enough to make a difference in their behavior. If Sue doesn’t care about Aunt Bea (she did make a scene at the wedding, after all), then the fact that Aunt Bea thinks Sue “talks too much” is probably inconsequential.
When the feedback is not anonymous.
Anonymous feedback is powerful. On the other hand, when an individual knows who gives the feedback, he or she may dwell on the giver, not the content.
When the feedback comes from one individual.
Aside from anonymity, feedback’s power comes from numbers. When the same feedback is given by a group, rather than one individual, the recipient in question has a difficult time ignoring the “truth.” One of my clients is a powerhouse. She gets things done. In fact, she likes to get things done herself, rather than handing the task over to capable and passionate colleagues. Not until she received anonymous feedback from several individuals about her lack of “empowering the team,” as one stated, did she decide to take the necessary steps to change. Their perception of her didn’t match her own, and she was forced to consider this dichotomy.
When feedback isn’t followed up with support.
Many companies offer feedback, whether through informal conversations or formal reviews, but then don’t offer the necessary support. One remedy is coaching. Smart companies offer coaching, in addition to feedback, to provide the structure, support, and accountability needed for real change to happen, and to sustain the results.
So while feedback can be highly effectively, it doesn’t always lead to desirable results, as exemplified above. Certainly there are other scenarios I didn’t mention when feedback won’t work. What has been your experience? Please comment below.