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Why Don’t You Tell Me How You Really Feel?

October 21, 2014

Rodney, don’t stand behind the podium. You ruined the entire punchline!

You kept twirling your ring. It was distracting!

You would be more effective if you paused longer between each character speaking.

You leaned on the podium too much. It made you appear disinterested.

You didn’t put enough movement into it. If you are going to fling the rabbit, really FLING it. You came across as kind of weak.

These are just a few of the comments I’ve heard as feedback to speeches I’ve made in the past. Sounds a little harsh doesn’t it? Funny thing, these are the good comments. I’ll share some of the really bad ones at the end.

Today, I want to talk about giving feedback. It might be to a direct report, a manager, or even a child or a spouse. I guess I’ve never really thought of it as something that is hard to do. Rather, I never thought of it as something you have to practice.

Harry Truman is credited with saying,

If you want a friend in Washington, buy a dog.

In many ways, he could have been talking about business. One of the burdens of management (and it really is a burden) is the requirement that you give feedback to people who work for you. I once had to coach a member of my team who had screwed up. (He Deserved To Be Fired.) He had screwed up so badly that my boss wanted me to fire him. I wanted to try a coaching route first. It was an awkward meeting.

You really left your teammates with a mess to clean up.

Yeah, I feel bad about that.

Why didn’t you call? Why didn’t you offer to come back off your trip and help? Why didn’t you say anything for the past two weeks?

Frankly, I was afraid I was going to get fired.

Well, hiding isn’t going to help.

I had what VitalSmarts calls a crucial conversation. The key part of the conversation was that I was straightforward and direct in exactly my team member had done wrong. I went on to explain what I wanted him to do to correct it.

I used the Truman quote about the dog, because in that meeting, I wasn’t his friend. I also wasn’t his enemy. I was his boss. And It was my responsibility to give clear and unambiguous feedback about exactly where he had screwed up and what he needed to do to improve. When he left that meeting, he knew exactly where he stood and what he needed to do to keep his job, and improve. And interestingly, he later thanked me for giving him direction. No one had ever taken the time to actually coach him on how to better do his job.

Now imagine that instead of a straightforward unambiguous discussion, our conversation had gone like this.

Yeah, that was a problem.

Yeah. . .

Bet you feel bad about it, huh?

Oh yeah. I feel awful.

Yeah, me too. Let’s try to not do that in the future.


By sympathizing with him and minimizing, I’ve actually done him a disservice. He doesn’t understand where he stands. He doesn’t know how to improve. He just knows “this was bad. Don’t do this again.”

As a manager, you are very much in the role of coach. And like a coach, you need to provide the training and the direction in a clear manner, so that people know where they went wrong an dhow to improve.

Imagine your favorite sports team had the #1 draft pick in the upcoming draft. They then draft the best college player. Now, this player shows up to his first day of practice and the coach says,

You’re a great athlete. You don’t have to participate in any of the drills or practices. Just show up to the games and we’ll be good.

What would happen? Of course, the athlete would not succeed. In fact, he would quickly become the worst player on the field. Now, suppose that on his first day of practice the coach says,

We’re excited you’re here. Your good, but we are going to make you better. I think you can improve on your run time. Your conditioning needs a lot work before the season starts. Here’s a playbook, memorize it, don’t lose it. If you want to be the best pro player instead of just the best college player, I expect you to be the first one here and the last one to leave. You’re going to work harder than you ever have in your entire life. But, we are going to teach you how to be a pro athlete.

Obviously, the player is going to be set up for success. Business is no different. You cannot expect your team to just “know” what you want. You need to give them direct and clear feedback, both when they are doing well and when they are screwing up.

I mentioned at the beginning that these were some of the best comments. The worst?

Nice job.


Can’t think of a thing to suggest to you.

Those comments aren’t bad, of course, but they in no way help me grow. I’ll be speaking at my Toastmaster Club today. Hopefully, I get an evaluator who will tell me where I can improve rather than simply complimenting me on my delivery.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild.

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