If you have read my book, People Leadership: 30 Strategies to Ensure Your Team’s Success, or any of my previous blog pieces, you know I love Southwest Airlines. I have had some interactions with their flight attendants that have irked me, however—and that happened on a recent flight I took with them to visit my best friend.
I am a petite woman—a whopping 5’3”—and because of that, my feet don’t touch the ground when I’m sitting in most chairs, so on flights I usually prop my feet up on the pocket on the back of the seat in front of me. I have done this for years with no one commenting on it, but on this flight a flight attendant came by and told me to stop.
My first reaction to her request—command, really—was to become angry and embarrassed. I felt like a kid being scolded by her teacher. But after I had a chance to think about it, I realized that from her perspective, she was simply providing me with feedback.
This experience reminded me of how easy it is to take feedback negatively. For most people, hearing feedback is like hearing fingernails scratching a chalkboard. But here’s the thing: offering and receiving feedback is one of the most beneficial things we can do in order to achieve positive results in our personal and professional lives.
Engaging in feedback that delivers positive results requires the following tactics:
#1: Have up-front expectations.
Had the flight attendant who asked me to put my feet down had announced in the safety briefing that people should not put their feet on the seatbacks in front of them, I most likely would not have done it—and if I had and did it anyway, I would not have felt so judged when I was admonished for it. In order to provide good feedback, you must outline desired behaviors, actions, and outcomes and provide a space for the individual receiving the feedback to ask clarifying questions. Quite frequently I see managers and leaders blindside their team members when they offer feedback about performance or behavior issues because the receiving party 1) was never told what was expected in the first place and 2) was given no opportunity to ask questions after getting the feedback so they could improve in the future.
#2: Have positive intentions.
Before you communicate your point, think about what positive outcome you hope to achieve in offering it. And remember, a positive outcome should not only satisfy your needs—it should positively impact the other individual and the situation in question. Positive intentions should also always focus on the situation or the behavior, not the person. When the flight attendant approached me on the plane, for instance, instead of saying “Don’t put your feet on the back seat pockets” (which felt like a personal attack), she could have said “Our customers and planes are important and we want to keep both of them in good condition. Do you mind not putting your feet in the back seat pocket?”—a much better way to make the experience more positive.
#3: Be consistent.
Feedback needs to be delivered consistently by all people and to all people. Had either of the two other flight attendants walking around the plane also commented about my feet being in the seat pocket, I would not have felt like I was being singled out by a very picky, anal-retentive flight attendant. People get very frustrated when feedback seems reserved for the “problem” children while “teacher’s pets” appear to have free rein engage in the unwanted behavior or are forgiven for similar issues. Also, feedback should not be reserved solely for negative situations. It is critical that conversations happen when things are going as expected or planned, so that people know their efforts are appreciated.
Providing feedback is the only way to let people know that they matter and are adding value to a situation and/or organization. When people leaders clarify expectations, set positive intentions, and are consistent in the type of feedback they deliver to their team members, everyone benefits!