Giving Feedback That Works: Planting the Seeds of Trust

Nano-tools for Leaders® — a collaboration between Wharton Executive Education and the Wharton Center for Leadership and Change Management – are fast, effective leadership tools you can learn and start using in less than 15 minutes, with the potential to make a significant impact on your success as a leader and on the engagement and productivity of the people you lead.

Donor: Katy Milkman, professor of operations, information and decisions at Wharton, is co-director of Penn’s Behavior Change for Good Initiative and author of How to change: the science of getting from where you are to where you want to be (Portfolio, 2021).

The goal

Become a confidence builder to get the results you need from your team.

Nano tool

“Whether you think you can or not, you’re right.” -Henry Ford

Most managers dread giving their opinion. Offering a mix of praise and criticism is supposed to help your team members do more of what they do well and improve in areas where they missed the mark. But research shows it rarely works that way (see the Nano Tool, “The Annual Performance Review: Should You Eliminate It?”). In his book How to change, Katy Milkman, professor at Wharton, shares a different idea: work on building people’s confidence if you want them to achieve a goal. In the words of Virgil from around 20 BCE, “they can because they think they can”.

Scientists like Alia Crum, an associate professor of psychology at Stanford University, have shown that we can create expectations about what will be happen, and this in turn can influence what Actually takes place in four main ways. First, our beliefs can change our emotions. Positive expectations often generate positive feelings, which have a host of physiological benefits such as reducing stress and lowering blood pressure. And that can make a big difference in what happens next. Our beliefs can also redirect our attention, keeping us focused on our goal rather than minor setbacks and inconveniences along the way. There is also evidence that beliefs can improve motivation and even affect our physiology.

On the other hand, research confirms that when we don’t to believe we have the ability to change, we don’t make as much progress by changing. This belief can be reinforced when a manager offers what they perceive to be helpful advice on what is wrong and how to fix it; that helpful advice can be inadvertently seen as criticism that can undermine trust.

Whatever goals you and your team are working towards, success can depend in part on your confidence in your ability to achieve them. The three action steps below can help you build your confidence by unlocking the potential of each of your team members.

Action steps

  1. Ask for advice. Research by Lauren Eskreis-Winkler, an assistant professor of management at Northwestern University, suggests that when managers seek advice from a team member instead of offering their own, they convey trust in the team member. the team and its capabilities. This then leads them to feel more motivated than when they received the same caliber of guidance. Even on the spot, without having time to seriously think about it, people are able to produce useful ideas on how to better approach the same goals with which they themselves struggle, and the act of giving Advice has been proven to improve advisor performance.
  2. Place underperforming employees in mentoring roles. It may seem counterintuitive, but it could improve their lagging performance. It’s no coincidence that reputable programs designed to help us achieve lasting change, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), encourage members to mentor one another. AA members choose another AA member as their “sponsor” when they sign up, but the sponsor isn’t just there to help a mentee stay sober. Becoming a sponsor can help you by boosting your self-confidence. Not only that, thinking deeply about how best to successfully achieve a goal so that you can offer guidance and accountability to someone else should also strengthen your own commitment. Mentoring programs in companies and schools also serve this dual purpose, whether or not they were designed with these additional benefits in mind.
  3. Model a growth mindset and teach others to adopt one. People with a growth mindset recognize that abilities, including intelligence, are not fixed and that effort has a profound effect on a person’s potential. Adopting a growth mindset builds confidence and helps you bounce back from setbacks. See specific action steps in the Nano tool “Changing Minds: Questions that Lead to Results”.

How Leaders Use It

  • Mike Mangini, lead drummer for world-famous heavy metal band Dream Theater, says he developed the confidence he needed to rise to fame through requests for help from other drummers. Mangini spent the 1980s as a software engineer, endlessly practicing drums at night and on weekends, dreaming of a great career in music with little hope of achieving his goal. Then, drummers in a shared practice space unexpectedly started asking him to tutor them. Their requests gave Mangini newfound confidence. If so many people thought he had a special talent, maybe he did. Mangini quit his day job and devoted himself full-time to drumming. Today, he is one of the best-known drummers in the business. He credits his success, in large part, to being asked to give advice to other people.
  • Max Bazerman, Jesse Isidor Straus Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, has won numerous awards for his mentorship. The secret of its success is threefold. First, he offers clear, direct advice sparingly and only when prompted. More often, it provides opportunities for students to share their own suggestions. Second, Bazerman also strongly encourages his more experienced mentees to work on research with his new advisors, which helps advanced PhD students and newcomers alike. Third, he has an unwavering belief that every student he advises has remarkable talents, ranging “from highly intelligent to spectacular”. While Bazerman students face the inevitable challenges of any competitive career, they rarely grapple with the kind of doubt that afflicts most people pursuing a doctorate—due to Bazerman’s faith in them.
  • Pete Carroll, one of only three coaches to win both a Super Bowl and a college football national championship, is widely admired for the confidence he has in his Seattle Seahawks players to work hard and play hard. to improve. He studied performance psychology early in his career and has a strong focus on player development. It starts with a very visible investment for the players: a service of specialists concerned with their health and their performance, including a life skills consultant/addictology counselor and a high-level sports psychologist. Carroll also champions positive energy – players are expected to leave negativity in the dressing room and are celebrated by their coaches for every achievement, even during training. Players are expected to do the same for each other – blaming is not an option.

(Adapted from How to change: the science of getting from where you are to where you want to be, by Katy Milkman; foreword by Angela Duckworth, courtesy of Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © Katherine L. Laitier, 2021.)

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