We have become so afraid of hurting someone’s feelings, that we have lost the ability to provide honest feedback. Sadly this act of “kindness” is actually dishonest feedback and is a disservice to friends, family and associates.
I was talking to a young manager last week who has been in charge of her first college summer intern. Having a very full plate of responsibilities, she was excited to have assistance for a few months and even promised her bosses some additional projects would get done over the summer thanks to the additional support. Well, not surprisingly, the intern is not as strong in basic skills as she had expected, and, like with many summer interns, it actually requires more effort on the manager’s part to train than it would have been to do the work herself. Standard fare. But… then she told me that “Gwen” made a statement to her about her commitment to working hard and later informed her that she will be taking several days off to go on vacation leaving her behind the eight ball even further. She’s been very patient with her all summer, spending hours each week teaching her both the basics of excel and the basics of their business – which is great. What she hasn’t been, however, is fully honest with Gwen or with her bosses about the experience.
When we talked about the situation, she said that she didn’t want to hurt Gwen’s feelings or get her in trouble. Rather she has been focusing on encouraging her and teaching her about the business. But here’s the flip side of that. Interns are there to learn not just details of the business, but how to comport themselves in the business world. If the manager is not honest in helping them understand what is required in “adult-land” then she’s actually not fully helping them to learn and prepare for their future. False reassurances only delay the inevitable failure when they doesn’t have the skills nor the true commitment to working their way up from the ground floor.
I’m quite certain that we didn’t come out of the wombs knowing how to hit a baseball… set the dinner table… manage a budget… write a thank you note… or any of a zillion skills and tasks that people develop over time. And, I’m similarly certain that we didn’t get it right the first time. It took guidance and practice. It’s not always fun to get that guidance… but then again it’s even worse to never develop the skill and live life ashamed of your inadequacies or insecurities and not knowing how to perform certain tasks.
No matter the business or industry, entry level employees should realize the importance of giving their all at every level, and the power that comes with learning as much as possible, no matter how small or boring it might seem.
Summer interns that fully appreciate the opportunity they are being given do everything they can to learn and to demonstrate their value to the company in the hopes that they will receive an offer for a full time job. They should take vacation before or after their assignment.. not during it. IMHO the manager should tell her this… and suggest the vacation be rescheduled. It’s not being “mean” to give honest feedback to an employee… it’s actually helping them grow for the long term.
I have had numerous young employees through the years that have required life lessons feedback. Some appreciated getting it and took it to heart. Some took offense and carried their victimhood with them to other jobs. All have hopefully remembered the lessons they were taught. I did.
The value of honest feedback and straight communications was something I always believed in, but I had it driven into me when I worked for an amazing entrepreneur for several years. I had lunch with him last week, and we talked about his straight forward style. Every employee always knew where they stood with Marshall. His feedback was swift and brief. If it was well done, he said so: No flowery speeches, just a simple “nice job.” If it required more work or a change, he said that’s too. Not in a mean or insulting way. Simply straight forward – “this needs some additional work, and here’s why/how.” While sometimes it felt abrupt, his feedback was never personal. It was just business.
Removing the fear of personal insults or attacks allows anyone to actually learn and grow. If you live with a filter of “it’s not fair” or “she’s picking on me” it leaves you as victim and stuck not growing. As I said to the manager above, by owning her role as teacher as well as “boss” it is easy to know that it is actually her responsibility to give that guidance and by not doing so, she is failing her own test as a manager.
At the simplest level, many people have a hard time saying what they want or speaking honestly. In the land of cancel culture, it has become even more challenging for people to honestly express their thoughts and opinions, even when it is their job to do so. This is a shame, because in the end, by holding back the truth everybody loses… the recipient is left without the gift of growth and the giver is left eating themselves up with internal angst at frustrating situations.
When alone in the quiet of your mind, do you really want to compromise your own physical and emotional health by holding back words? Or, if receiving feedback, do you really want to live knowing that “they” are thinking negative things about you when pretending all is ok? Let alone, crippling your own growth and development?
For me, it’s an easy choice.