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The Secret to Giving Feedback:  Understand That Everything is Your Fault

Most employee feedback sessions go awry when blame starts to be assigned by the manager to the employee.  Blame equals shame when giving employee feedback causing it to be the number one reason why employee feedback is so fraught with angst.  

LinkedIn is a platform where employees often share their thoughts on performance reviews and how managers should deliver evaluations. There are varying opinions on the value of annual performance reviews. Providing feedback on someone’s behavior or performance can be stressful, as people may have different perspectives and interpretations of the truth.

Nuance plays a role in these conversations, as employees may have extenuating circumstances that impact their performance.


When discussing performance issues, it’s essential to consider opposing perspectives. For example, if you express dissatisfaction with your team’s new business development performance to your Head of Sales, she may argue that travel and entertainment expense reductions have negatively affected performance. In such cases, it’s crucial for leaders to take a moment to reflect on the response and consider its fairness and relevance. Adjusting expectations based on these issues can help align future performance goals.

Open communication and understanding different viewpoints are key to fostering productive feedback sessions. By addressing concerns and exploring potential correlations between factors like expense reductions and business development performance, you can create a foundation for constructive discussions and set realistic expectations for the future.

If your Head of Sales genuinely believes there is a direct correlation between expense reductions and business development performance, it would be beneficial to discuss this further. By exploring the relationship between these factors, you can gain insights for setting future expectations and making informed decisions.

The feedback process should not be about playing a “gotcha” game but rather about listening to understand. As a leader, it’s important to create an environment where employees feel heard and valued. By fostering open communication and engaging in constructive conversations, you can build trust and promote growth within your team.

Remember, feedback is a two-way street. While it is your job to provide feedback, it is equally important to listen and consider different perspectives. By embracing this approach, you can create a culture of continuous improvement and collaboration.

One of my favorite guidelines for discussing performance with employees is the  Brene Brown engaged feedback checklist.  The consistent theme of the checklist is for you to own your part of any performance shortfall.  If you are a great leader you recognize that most of the time,  it is your fault.  Accepting this will set you free.

For example, if a captain goes to sleep and leaves the boat in charge of their first mate, resulting in the boat running aground, it’s ultimately the captain’s fault. In reality, it’s the fault of whoever hired the captain in the first place.

Open communication and mutual understanding are key elements in fostering productive feedback sessions. By acknowledging extenuating circumstances and considering opposing perspectives, leaders can create an environment conducive to constructive discussions and set realistic expectations for future performance.

Taking ownership of your employees’ problems can create a sense of freedom and help foster a collaborative environment. Freeing yourself from the blame game and focusing on finding solutions is indeed a constructive approach.

To guide your feedback conversations, you can employ the FOP framework as your overriding mindset:

F: FREQUENCY of feedback discussions with employees - Regularly engage in conversations about pressing issues to prevent them from festering. By addressing concerns promptly, you can avoid potential complications down the line.

O: OWN your piece of the issue - Taking responsibility for your part in any problem is essential. When an employee constantly misses deadlines, dresses inappropriately, or fails to meet expectations, consider how you may have contributed to the issue. Reflect on whether you have clearly communicated the importance of deadlines, established a dress policy, or reinforced expectations. By acknowledging your role, you can work towards resolving the problem effectively.

P: PREPARE for your feedback conversations - As a leader, it’s crucial to proactively think about the feedback you have given or plan to provide to your team. Anticipate how they might respond and consider your own reactions. Determine which aspects you are willing to take ownership of. If you are unprepared to address their response adequately, it may be best to postpone the conversation until you are ready.

By embracing these principles, you can create an environment that encourages open communication and fosters growth among your team members.

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