The saying goes that we should “trust our instincts.”  In many life changing moments, I believe this to be good advice.  When someone pops you the question, you know in that very instant whether to say “yes” or “no.”  When offered two jobs – one with a high salary but boring work and one with a low salary but exciting work – your gut probably won’t lead you wrong.  When it comes to the “big picture questions,” 9 times out of 10 your gut can’t lead you astray.

That doesn’t mean, though, that our first response is great in every situation.  Case in point: team feedback.

When it comes to giving individual performance reviews, tracking team progress, or just doing a post mortem, there really is no room for a gut reaction.  Why?  Because your emotional response is not necessarily going to resonate with those you work with.  Someone who loves sports car might pick the high paying, but boring, job while someone else who doesn’t mind living like a college student might go with the low paying, but exciting, job.  Whenever you have to cross the boundary between making a decision for yourself to helping others make decisions, it’s time to put the instinct away and approach the situation from a more analytical viewpoint.

By analytical, I don’t mean “without emotion.”  In fact, just the opposite.  Like any good speech, you have to know who your audience is.  If you’re giving feedback to your team, you should know the ins and outs of the personalities of said team in order to provide feedback in the most effective way possible.  Some teams love inspirational speeches.  Others prefer charts and graphs about past performance and how new decisions will change that.  Whatever your audience, if you walk with just your emotions on the table, odds are, the only person you will convince is yourself, which you’ve already done.

Seem like a no brainer to you?   Sure, but it can be hard to remember in the heat of the moment.  I’ve had more than my fair share of “omg, this must be done TODAY!” moments where I probably was more harried than effective.  I’ve had other bosses who have gotten angry easily, causing people around them to hide their true insight into what’s happening with the project.  Still others expect their team to follow their leadership style, blindly looking for people “just like them” and then wondering why there isn’t any diversity on the team.

It takes some practice and skill to nail the art of giving feedback, but you can get it.  Just remember one key rule – your gut instinct is great for you, but may not be right for everyone on your team.

-Deborah Fike

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