The Hidden Power of Feedback


We all agree that communication is critical in running an adventure park. It is certainly true for any kind of business—especially if you are trying to communicate messages around change.

As a manager, part of your job is to communicate change, and you probably think you do it pretty well. So why do your employees often seem misinterpret your message? Why do the things you say go in one ear and out the other? Why do they avoid replying to your emails? Or worse, why to they overreact to your suggestions?

According to authors Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone, when we give feedback we tend to notice that the receiver isn’t good at receiving it. When WE receive feedback, however, we notice that the giver isn’t good at giving it.[1]

This comes from the fundamental disconnect between what we know about ourselves and what others observe about us. That is, there is always a difference between what you mean (as the giver of feedback) and what the other person hears (as the receiver).

Comment What Was Heard What Was Meant
I’d like you to be more upbeat when you’re interacting with customers. Be fake. Put that winning personality on display!
You need to be more professional. Sacrifice my true self and sell out to ‘the man’ Stop swearing and spitting in front of customers. It’s gross.
You’re getting a 4 on your job review this year. I worked so hard, and all I get is a 4? Nobody gets a 5; few people get a 4. You’re doing a great job.

So, what triggers these reactions? Why do people interpret feedback in such a wildly different way than how you intend it? Heen and Stone say there are three triggers that cause receivers to feel resentful or disengaged about their feedback:

  • The Truth Trigger – when the feedback is wrong, unfair, or unhelpful
  • The Relationship Trigger – when the receiver does not trust the source of feedback
  • The Identity Trigger – when the giver challenges the essence of who you are

The challenge, of course, is that much of the feedback conversation isn’t about what’s said, but what’s hidden and unsaid. This may sound like a minefield, and if handled poorly, it is. However, in order to engage in a positive conversation about feedback there are three important things to remember:

  • Have the right intent. Be sure you are clear about the purpose. Are you expressing appreciation? Are you coaching to encourage the receiver to reflect and grow? Or are you evaluating?
  • Be totally present. By focusing all of your attention on the receiver, you are sending a signal that you know the conversation is important to them. And you are letting them know that it’s important to you, too. This will reduce the likelihood of activating triggers.
  • Be a great listener. Whatever the response, it’s legitimate. Be curious about their response. You may have inadvertently hit a sore spot, and you can find out more by asking about their reaction. The goal is to ensure they hear your intent instead of assuming what you said landed as intended.

Lastly—and this always a good test—reflect on a time when YOU received feedback. How was it delivered? Were you open to it? Did you hear something different than what was intended? Did you ask questions? How can you use that experience in order to be better at giving feedback to your employees?

Be mindful of how you communicate feedback, and be aware of the reaction to that feedback. If your message is getting lost in translation, you may have hit a trigger and need to adjust your approach moving forward. Great communication within an operation will lead to a happier team, happier managers, and ultimately, happier guests.

[1] Stone, Douglas, and Sheila Heen. Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well (even When It Is off Base, Unfair, Poorly Delivered, and Frankly, You’re Not in the Mood).


About Author

Paul Thallner is CEO and Founder of High Peaks Group, a U.S.-based consulting firm that helps leaders and organizations tackle the tough people challenges in order to accelerate business performance.

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