Feedback in the Workplace: A Crucial Management Skill

In one cohort of leadership trainees, we had one young woman who was a really smart, great contributor. She felt that she had a lot more life experience than some of the people in the program. So while she was really smart and a great contributor, she was actually communicating a subtle message to everyone: “You need this program, but I don’t.” Thus begins a story about the importance of feedback in the workplace.

I tried to talk to her about this early on in the program, but I prefer to let the people in the program take accountability and responsibility for each other – which in this case would entail giving her the feedback themselves. In the program, I encourage trainees, when they experience something with another participant, to address it directly. It’s a part of giving and receiving feedback. If this is done in a trusting, caring and constructive manner, it can be really effective.

For some reason, people didn’t want to address this with her and provide the feedback.

I don’t know if they felt intimidated by her, but they went for a long period of time and didn’t address the issue.

Finally, we went to an exercise where people had an opportunity to give feedback. For the first time, the woman in question started hearing how people felt about her. This was five months into the program, and she was taken aback. She really had no sense of what she had been non-verbally communicating to her peers.

After receiving the feedback, she started to shut down. So I went up to her –  because I saw what a valuable contributor she is at the company – and I said:

“We’ll do whatever we need to do to work through this. There’s no option for you to leave the company. You need to be here. You’re too valuable.”

Once she had time to process it a little bit, we got the group back together and she started communicating why she felt so affected by the feedback she received.

I could tell that she was emotional. Before the entire room, I told her:

“I just want you to know that I would hire you in a heartbeat.”

She replied:

“You know what? That’s what really aggravates me. Why are people telling me that?? You’re not the only one that gave me that message… yet I’m the one who got the negative feedback from the group about how I’m performing.”

So I asked the other members of her training cohort:

“Who wants to give her some feedback?”

The people that had given her the feedback raised their hands. I called on them, and they essentially said the same message that I had given before, which was that while they really liked her and they saw that she was a great contributor… they felt that she was holding herself separate and apart from the group.

More to the point, they felt she was being aloof and that she considered herself a little bit superior to the others. As a result, they didn’t feel as close to her as they did to their other people in the program. Upon hearing this, she said:

“Why on earth would you wait five months to tell me that?”

As the facilitator in the room, this event reinforced my belief in the value of giving and receiving feedback. As for the student in question, she took the feedback to heart. She went back and truly made a concerted effort to change that behavior and connect at a more authentic level with the people that she worked with. It was literally only about three weeks later when her boss came to me and said:

“I don’t know what you did with her, but whatever it was, she’s amazing. She is absolutely incredible in what she’s doing now.”

Because of the feedback she had received, she had realized that she could be a much greater team player and she had been holding herself back.

Hallett Leadership facilitates learning moments and insights like these among managers. If your organization is ready to begin developing its leadership bench, feel free to contact us.


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