Juanita came back from her performance review with a nervous smile on her face. She sat down with her friends who asked, “How did it go?” She responded, “Good. I think.” Since there was hesitation in her voice, the friends were puzzled by the response and asked her why she didn’t know. Juanita paused and said, “He told me I did good work. That’s good to hear, but it was just like last year’s review, only this year he wasn’t our new supervisor. He just didn’t really say anything that was specific about the work I do. I honestly don’t think he has a clue what I do every day. I worked my butt off this past year and there wasn’t any recognition of those contributions. There also wasn’t anything about how I can improve. I love this company and want to move up, but I don’t know how or even what I need to do to improve.”

Has this ever happened to you? Someone uses such generic language when giving feedback and when you reflect on it, you don’t know what they said or where you stand with them.

Juanita was right to wonder. My experience is that it usually means they don’t really know or they’re avoiding telling you something.

Have you ever used generic language when providing feedback? I confess I have.

Let’s be honest though, we all do it, and the generic language we use with others, is the very thing we hate when it happens to us.

We all know specifics are helpful, but why do we avoid it?

I believe there are two reasons leaders hesitate.

  1. Time – No one wants to invest the amount of time that’s needed. Giving good feedback takes time to monitor someone’s performance and then give good, specific, and understandable feedback. You must understand their work to do it well. Let’s face it, leaders today are busy and don’t want to spend the time they need. Years ago, everyone you managed worked with you, but today leaders don’t often have an opportunity to witness someone’s work in person. Their team is deployed in other business locations or their working from home and they have too many direct reports. To give meaningful feedback, the leader needs to talk with others who work directly with them and if what you learn isn’t consistent, you need to take time to dig deeper. Who wants to do that?
  2. Fear – Yes, leaders fear the reaction of those receiving the feedback. Everyone loves feedback as long as it’s good. You know, “Thank you very much for telling me I’m wonderful!” If it’s not that, look out. There might be an angry outburst, or tears. I think even worse is the person receiving feedback who wants to debate with you. Every leader can tell you stories of good feedback they delivered, and the conversation was a nightmare. So, they find ways to avoid it.

We need to stop this. If you’re a leader, you owe it to your team to give them honest, specific feedback. It will take time, but that time isn’t a waste, it’s an investment in them and will pay dividends down the road for you. Yes, some will resist hearing it, but avoidance doesn’t help them improve.

If you make the investment, you’ll never regret it.

If you listen to constructive criticism, you will be at home among the wise. If you reject discipline, you only harm yourself; but if you listen to correction, you grow in understanding. Proverbs 15:31-32 (GNT)

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