On a recent visit to our N2Growth EMEAA headquarters in Rotterdam, Netherlands, I visited with my new friend Gerard Coops, Managing Director of HuReMa Consulting, to discuss his views on leadership as it relates to giving feedback and providing coaching.

Interview Summary

JH: Leaders providing proper feedback to their team members has been a topic of conversation for endless amounts of time. Why do so many organizations run away from embracing it? Is it that hard of a thing to accomplish? Is it a useful tool? 

GC: People are generally afraid of feedback. Indeed, supervisors are sometimes fearful of feedback. The higher you are within the organization, the less feedback you get. Here is a quick story to illustrate how feedback works within different cultures. 

I was on a work assignment in India, and it happened to be over my birthday. My workmates from India decided to throw me a party to celebrate the occasion. I was humbled and gladly accepted. Somebody came in with a lovely cake, a beautiful cake. They took a slice out of it and asked me to open my mouth, and they feed it to me. (So that was my first impression of doing something with good intention, but different then I used to because of my cultural background.) I was happy to have such a lovely tasting cake and being a part of a unique cultural experience. The next thing (with good intention) was they took another piece of cake, and they rubbed it in my face! So if I were somebody from India, I would say, ” Wow, this is really nice!” Because it is a part of a traditional birthday celebration, and the intentions were pure. Thank goodness I was aware of that tradition, and I had such a fun time with the team that evening. Everything was in context and with good intention. Now, if that had taken place back in the Netherlands or if I was not aware or sensitive to cultural differences, I may have likely taken offense to it! This story (just like feedback) requires awareness, attempts to understand intentions, and understanding that behaviors are unique, and many may have blind spots. 

So, the moral of the story is that feedback is essential in knowing that people generally have good intentions. As a person giving the feedback, be careful not to judge too quickly, but instead first come from the perspective of the individual’s intent. As a leader giving the feedback, you can provide your observations on the individual’s behavior, but be careful to judge the person’s intention. As a human, I can become aware of my behavior, but I can’t change the way I am unless I am aware of it.

JH: What would be your advice on the person providing the feedback? Should you always be brutally honest? Is there political correctness involved? How do you do that? 

GC: I think if you give feedback on someone’s behavior, you do not ever attack them. You tell the person the impact the action they are demonstrating is impacting you, others, or the organization. It is the interpretation you are discussing. It’s also with a cultural dependence. For instance, if you’re looking upon my example in India, (rubbing cake in the face), it was cultural. If I did that here, then the impact would be completely different. In India vs. here, it’s very different. We won’t like it, but in India, they would like it. Think perspective. 

JH: That is excellent advice for people providing feedback. (To not blame the person they’re performing it on) because they can’t change their behaviors, but rather the impact it creates upon them. Fantastic advice! So, let’s swap it around now. You’re someone who’s receiving the feedback. What’s your opinion on someone who’s getting the feedback? 

GC: My advice would be to listen, listen, listen. Just listen. Ask for feedback, and ask for it to be about your behavior. So, let’s have a conversation about it. Most people will be inclined to be defensive. They will want to put their walls up and don’t want to talk about it. But if you are like this going into the feedback session (putting walls up), how can you develop? Amazingly, something as simplistic as just communications is very complicated. It isn’t effortless, not easy at all. I don’t say complicated; it’s just not easy. Feedback is, they say, the breakfast of champions! So lower your defenses and breath in the observations to help make you a better teammate. 

Key Leadership Takeaways:

  1. As uncomfortable as it is, providing feedback is a leadership imperative.
  2. Feedback should be just that…FEEDBACK. Many treat the feedback session like a right vs. wrong session, and it is genuinely not productive. Utilize Gerard’s advice and discuss how a person’s behaviors are seen by others and make them “aware.” 
  3. Open, transparent communications will win the day in today’s personal and professional environments.

What are your thoughts on Gerard’s perspectives? Please post your comments below and let us begin building a tribe of people who have a passion for followership, mentorship, and leading!