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Book Club - Let's Talk: Make Effective Feedback Your Superpower

Each month as part of our Intentional Growth Club, we read a book and hold a discussion night to talk about our takeaways from the book.

Bright blue cover of Let's Talk by Therese Huston

Our book club read this month was Let’s Talk: Make Effective Feedback Your Superpower by Therese Huston. All month, we’ve been talking about giving and receiving feedback (and feedforward), and this book encompasses many of the things we’ve talked about.

Many managers have no idea how to give effective feedback, so they give either unhelpful feedback or none at all. This book aims to remedy that problem. After all, you can’t grow if you don’t know where you need to improve.

Let’s Talk lays out different types of feedback that should be given in different scenarios and identifies six practices to help improve your skills in each type of feedback. The book is full of practical knowledge and examples to help you start putting them into practice immediately.

Let’s dive right in to our key takeaways from the book.

1) Understand the Different Types of Feedback

Feedback can actually mean several distinct types of communication with your employees, even if we use the same word for all of them. The book describes three different types: appreciation, coaching, and evaluation. Huston stresses that it’s crucial to give every person on your team all three types of feedback throughout the year.

“If you don’t know what kind of feedback the other person is seeking or you don’t make it clear what kind you’re offering, at best your feedback falls on deaf ears, and at worst, you’re feeling frustrated and incompetent as a manager and the other person is feeling unemployed.”

Let’s briefly go over each of the three types of feedback.

Appreciation: Appreciation is about thanking the person for their hard work and acknowledging a job well done. You reinforce the person’s strengths and make them feel their work has value and makes an impact.

We talked about appreciation in the workplace and the book The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace by Gary Chapman in a blog post earlier this year. If you want a refresher on just how important appreciation can be and further tips to incorporate genuine appreciation in the workplace, I highly recommend going back to that post.

Coaching: On the other hand, coaching is all about helping an employee with a problem or to find the areas where they need to improve. Huston sums it up saying, “At its simplest, coaching is advice.”

Coaching is a two-way street - you brainstorm together to find a solution that works. Simply giving them a solution doesn’t help them learn and it might not really solve the problem they’re facing. The best way to have a good coaching conversation is to ask lots of questions and ensure you work to mutually come up with a plan of action.

Evaluation: Finally, evaluation is a type of feedback to offer some type of concrete information on where the employee stands. It could be a ranking, a grade, etc. Not every organization has an explicit formal evaluation process, but there should be some way to let employees know how they are performing.

This is especially important for employees who are hoping to move up the ladder. If they are being compared to others, even if you don’t have a formal evaluation process, they need to know where they stand.

Typically, these different types of feedback should be separate conversations to avoid confusion. There’s nothing wrong with sprinkling some appreciation in every conversation, but just one type of feedback should be the main focus of a single conversation to ensure clarity of purpose.

2) Make The Receiver Feel Safe

As we discussed in our book club post about Crucial Conversations back in March, it’s important to make the other person feel safe during a feedback conversation. After all, feedback can be a crucial conversation, so many of the same principles apply.

Hearing feedback can be unpleasant and even scary, so helping reassure the other person will help make the conversation go more smoothly and ensure your message is getting through. Someone who is stressed and defensive won’t even be listening to what you have to say.

One of the best things you can do to make the other person feel safe is to assure them that you are on their side. Frame your feedback as wanting to help the other person succeed or overcome a problem, not just as criticism. “I have your best interests at heart, so let’s work through this together.” Even if it seems obvious to you, make sure to say it out loud in some fashion.

It also helps to remember to discuss the behavior, not the person. Just because someone made an error doesn’t mean they are a careless person in general. It means that particular behavior was careless. Keep that in mind to avoid accidentally putting them on the defensive.

There are plenty more ideas to help reduce the anxiety the feedback receiver feels discussed in the book, particularly in the chapter “Minimize the Threat.” If this is an area you struggle with, I highly recommend reading that chapter in full.

3) Don’t Wait Until You Feel Like an Expert

It can be intimidating to try giving feedback, so it’s tempting to want to wait until you feel like you’re an expert. Unfortunately, the reality is that you’ll probably never feel like an expert and the only way to get good at giving feedback is to practice giving feedback. Reading books like this one can be a great tool to help you learn, but nothing can replace actually getting in the trenches and giving feedback.

“If you’re putting off giving feedback until you feel you’re good at it, let’s be honest: that feedback conversation is not going to happen. And if you’re not having that conversation, you stay stuck, and so does the other person.”

Instead of waiting, start from where you are now. Huston suggests the following questions to help you track your growth as a feedback giver:

  1. To what extent did I listen?

  2. To what extent did I learn something I didn’t know?

  3. To what extent did I communicate what I set out to say?

Answer these questions to yourself after a feedback conversation and seek to improve in just one area for the next conversation. Giving feedback is a skill and can be learned and improved just like anything else.

Giving effective feedback is the surest way to help your whole organization grow together. Although it can be anxiety-inducing on both sides, clear communication will help you avoid misunderstandings and work together to overcome challenges.

Let's Talk by Therese Huston is an excellent guide to help you along your feedback journey, wherever you may be starting from.

Join us on Tuesday, November 29th at 6:30 PM (CST) for our book club discussion. Register to join us on Zoom here:

If you can't make the discussion, let us know your thoughts on the book in the comments below!

Next month's book will be Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself by Dr. Joe Dispenza.

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