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Marcus Buckingham - People don’t need feedback: they need this…

Nine Lies About Work:  Lie # 5 People need feedback 

“To fix a performance problem we instinctively turn to… personal feedback.”

Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall, from their book Nine Lies About Work.  

First, a small psychology lesson. 

Have you ever lost out on a parking space, and found yourself criticising the driver who took it? “They’re selfish, they’re stupid, they’re a poor member of society.” (In other words:  who/what they are).

Have you ever taken a parking space ahead of another, and justified it to yourself? “I’m in a hurry, I’d waited for ages, it’s raining and I’ve got to look presentable.” (In other words: what’s happening to me).   

This tendency to skew our explanation of others’ behaviour towards stories about who they are is called the Fundamental Attribution Error.  

Our own behaviour is skewed the other way; we attribute it to outside factors.  

It’s called Actor-Observer Bias, and it explains away our own actions in a way that props up our self-esteem.

So what does this have to do with feedback? 

Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall, authors of Nine Lies About Work, suggest everything.

“One of the inconvenient truths about humans is that we have poor theories of others, and these theories lead us, among other things, to design our working world to remedy or to insulate against failings of others, but don’t see in ourselves.”

So, the advice and feedback you give to others may not work for them, because you both see the world from your unique, and sometimes biased, perspective.

In Nine Lies About Work, the authors say the best leaders: 
  • reject the idea that the most important focus of their time is people’s shortcomings;
  • realise each person’s strengths are their areas of greatest opportunity for learning and growth;
  • realise time and attention devoted to contributing to these strengths intelligently will yield exponential return now and in the future. 

What happens when you give negative feedback

The authors say brain research shows the sympathetic system lights up. This is the “fight or flight” system, the system that mutes the other parts of the brain and thus allows us to focus only on the information most necessary to survive.

In other words, negative feedback doesn’t enable learning. It systematically inhibits it and is, neurologically speaking, how to create impairment. 
Instead, try this present, past and future approach:
  • Ask your colleague to tell you three things that are working for him right now (it primes the mind with oxytocin, the “creativity and love” hormone);
  • Next go to the past. Ask him “When you had a problem like this in the past, what did you do that worked?”  Much of our lives are lived through patterns;
  • Finally, turn to the future. Ask your team member “What do you already know you need to do? What do you already know works in this situation?”

Marcus Buckingham has been described by Fortune magazine and Oprah Winfrey as a “strengths management guru”. He is the author of many books, including StandOut 2.0: Assess Your Strengths. Find Your Edge. Win at Work, Find Your Strongest Life, and First, Break all the Rules.  Nine Lies About Work is his latest book. 

Nine Lies About Work author Marcus Buckingham is speaking to The Growth Faculty on our On Demand book club. Members can watch our interview with Marcus Buckingham by logging onto On Demand. 

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