Cringeworthy Feedback: How to Take it and How to Dish it Out

Whiplash-37013_5Feedback can hurt.

I’ve seen it hundreds, maybe thousands of times in my career.  I’ve received the painful “gift” of feedback from well-intentioned but unduly harsh bosses.  I’ve watched as bright, creative souls were pounded day after day, year after year by tyrant supervisors.  It is appalling.  And if you’re in HR, it’s likely that you’ve given these types of leaders training at some point on how to give more constructive feedback.

You see, for some reason it seems that people either avoid giving feedback and tell other people when someone is doing poorly (in their opinion) or they fly off the handle and use hurtful, unconstructive words that are not meant to motivate, but to belittle and destroy.

Or are they?

I just watched the movie Whiplash and first, let me tell you, no~ EMPLORE you, to watch the movie if you haven’t.  As someone who tries to watch as many Oscar-nominated films before the Academy Awards, this particular film did not make it to a theater near me in time.  If it had, I would have been furious watching Birdman win for Best Picture knowing that the GEM that is Whiplash was overlooked.

Watch the movie.

Ok, back to the story.  As I watched the movie about an over zealous conductor and his harsh training and feedback for one of his studio drummers, I realized that sometimes, there is a reason feedback needs to hurt.  I started wondering if we’re getting too soft in this era of giving every child a trophy for participation and every employee the “warm fuzzy” feeling just because we think if we don’t, they will bash us on Glassdoor or on social media.  It’s like being led by fear.

The truth is that sometimes, people need harsh feedback.  Sometimes, for feedback to take hold and inspire the person to change, we need to make an impression.  It is a fine line to walk between being helpful and being too brutal.  So, what do you do if your boss is a tyrant when it comes to feedback?

  • Take a deep breath and determine the motive.  Some people are just mean for the sake of being mean.   If that’s the case, RUN.  If not, move on to the next step.
  • Is this out of character?  If your boss is usually constructive and sporadically gives harsh feedback that you can somehow determine is well intentioned, it could be for your own good.  Grit your teeth and bear it.  Try to look past the delivery and cling to the underlying message to understand what you can do to improve.
  • What’s the boss’ motive?  Is their boss riding their ass?  Are they taking the blame for something you did?  Try to figure out why the feedback is harsh.  You may need to take a break for the boss to calm down, then ask for a meeting another time to discuss specific ways you could have performed better.

 

Now, what if YOU are known as the tyrant?  

Well, first you need to decide if you just like being that way or if there is a real reason.  If you enjoy verbally torturing people, get used to the fact that you’ll likely always have high turnover because many people will not put up with your crap.  If you are only harsh situationally, you’re probably ok.  Make sure you’re not violating any workplace policies or breaking any laws (of course). As long as you’re not, then try to use harsher feedback only when absolutely necessary to make your point and to get the recipient to make a change.

Have you worked for a boss that gave feedback that was harsh?  Are you that boss?  Tell me about your experience in the comments.