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Daniel Sellers
Daniel Sellers

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Direct Feedback

Jobs’s taste for merciless criticism was notorious; Ive recalled that, years ago, after seeing colleagues crushed, he protested. Jobs replied, “Why would you be vague?,” arguing that ambiguity was a form of selfishness: “You don’t care about how they feel! You’re being vain, you want them to like you.” Ive was furious, but came to agree. “It’s really demeaning to think that, in this deep desire to be liked, you’ve compromised giving clear, unambiguous feedback,” he said. He lamented that there were “so many anecdotes” about Jobs’s acerbity: “His intention, and motivation, wasn’t to be hurtful.”

Ian Parker for the New Yorker.

Giving clear and direct feedback is one of the hardest things for me as a manager. I agree with Jobs on this, that the thing that usually holds me back is that I want my direct reports to like me. Ironically the thing I appreciate about my favorite managers was their ability to give me direct feedback, even direct negative feedback, so that I knew how to get better.

This quote reminds me of a a training meeting I was in a while ago for leadership in one of the local congregations of the LDS church. We were talking about this verse:

Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy;

Doctrine & Covenants 121:43

The individual leading the discussion pointed out that the key here was clarity of feedback. Direct, clear and focused. Not sharp as in cutting, but sharp in its focus on what needed to change.

That is the type of feedback I appreciate, even when my initial reaction is negative to it.

One final thought on all this. Setting up a space for direct feedback is important. I have found that when I have a time set aside to receive I can become used to lowering my defensive walls and allow in the feedback more quickly.

So making time to discuss needed changes, and progress allows me to prepare to receive it openly. This is why having regular 1:1 meetings is so important.

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