Understanding The Importance Of Giving And Receiving Honest Feedback


What happens when our managers can’t give honest feedback to staff?

Let’s face it, we all like positive feedback. When given positive feedback, we reward our managers with loyalty, attention, greater productivity and motivation, and a tendency to not ‘rock the boat’. So both the staff member and the manager enjoy the rewards. 

To apply Freud’s term, the Pleasure Principle has influenced both the manager’s and the staff member’s pursuit of pleasure obtained from a decrease in psychological tension.

Giving and receiving honest, transparent feedback

This hedonic motivation has many interpretations. One links to the principle that people prefer to experience pleasure and avoid pain.

Where there is a manager and/or a staff member who both avoid conflict and are unconsciously influenced by this pleasure versus pain principle, feedback conversations will not always be honest or transparent. They also won't be effective in developing individual and team performance.

Left to perpetuate, the cumulative effect of only giving and receiving feedback has many unintended consequences:

  • The manager is more likely to blame individual staff (or their whole team) for performance and culture deficiencies rather than reflect on their contribution to the problem;
  • The same manager will feel the ‘heat’ when asked by their seniors to explain why all team members are consistently rated as ‘very high performers’ year after year in formal performance reviews;
  • The same manager will also feel the ‘heat’ when staff harass and turn against them for giving a rating anything less than a ‘very high performer’; and
  • Staff will loudly complain when they have to work with a new manager who is prepared to address issues and is not fearful of giving frank, constructive feedback.

In an attempt to enjoy pleasure, the painful reality often catches up sooner rather than later.

However, good leaders and HR managers know that the management of performance doesn’t have to mirror the above scenarios.

Many know from experience that although it may seem difficult to offer ‘less than positive’ feedback, when it is delivered in a constructive manner, staff will respond constructively (if they are not used to only experiencing pleasure from feedback conversations). 

Short-term discomfort equals long-term gains

Sigmund Freud didn’t just believe people look at the long-term pleasure and happiness of events. He also believed that hedonic motivation includes the tendency for people to prefer an experience of immediate discomfort if they know the linked outcome will lead to pleasure. This is also known as the Reality Principle.

So, when a manager and the staff member understand that making small improvements in performance can be an enjoyable and satisfying experience, they are more likely to accept any immediate short-term discomfort for the more pleasurable long-term gains. 

This approach requires, at the very least, a series of conversations. These should be either one-to-one or in facilitated team meetings, workshops, or training sessions in which:

  • Insights are explored to reach an understanding of the Reality Principle;
  • Clarity is achieved regarding the role and responsibility of the manager and each employee to meet the obligations of their employment contracts and position descriptions (which is to work and behave as professionals to contribute to the achievement of the business outcomes);
  • An agreement is made regarding the benefits of regularly giving and receiving constructive feedback on performance and behaviour to ensure professional standards and reasonable expectations are upheld and maintained;
  • There is a clear understanding of the performance management process, both informally and formally; and
  • Everyone is provided with training to develop their skills in giving constructive feedback.

In addition, businesses would also benefit from providing the following:

  • Ease of access to supportive and reasonable interventions, such as resources and task skills training;
  • Leadership training opportunities for managers particularly related to performance management (including related FWA matters), effective communications, the art of coaching, emotional intelligence, and the orchestration of a high performing team.
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About the Author

Catherine Gillespie brings a wealth of skill to her clients. With particular expertise in teaching communication and workplace conflict resolution skills, Catherine has made a marked difference to the organisations she has worked with. She empowers teams and managers to adopt constructive styles that support harmony, productivity and progress in the workplace.