In December, 2006 I hired my first executive coach to help me identify my blind spots and accelerate my professional development. In February of the following year, my coach felt it was time for a 360 assessment to find out what perceptions others have of me professionally to take my development to the next level.

I remember distinctly when we were working together to identify the respondents for the assessment my coach instructed me to invite a diverse group of participants, not just the folks who I liked and knew liked me. The point of the assessment was to get a well-rounded picture of how colleagues, direct reports, and supervisors saw me in my role, but positive and negative.

While I waited for all the respondents to complete their assessment, I spoke to a few colleagues who thanked me for inviting their feedback. One in particular was Debra whom I really liked and got along well with; we had mutual respect for each other and enjoyed helping each other whenever we could. I would definitely consider it a mutually beneficial relationship.

And I’ll always remember what Debra said to me on the phone one day after she completed the assessment: she said she only gives positive feedback, never negative.

Last year I wrote about The Disease to Please in Business and I find my attention once again drawn back to that post as a I remember Debra’s comment to me.

Look, you are in relationships with people in your personal and professional life, and you may want to believe that in order to have harmony you must keep the peace by:

  • Keeping your negative feelings and thoughts to yourself
  • Putting on a smile and pretending everything is OK
  • Avoiding honesty if you think it’ll cause conflict or pain
  • Going with the flow
  • Getting over it and moving on

What those wrong approaches lead to is not more understanding, but feelings of resentment, in-authenticity, and fake positives.

No one is perfect, therefore only providing positive feedback to a professional results in a skewed and unrealistic perception that her or she IS perfect. Perfectionism is a big problem and breeds crazy-ness and dysfunction. Perfectionism is a straitjacket, and in your quest to be perfect or maintain your perfection, you will engage in more of the resentment-inducing, inauthentic, fake positives above.

And if you use fake positives in your management style, you breed more of the crazy-ness and dysfunction in your professional relationships. You can share negative feedback in a tactful and diplomatic manner, providing the other party the opportunity to decide if they want to do something about it. Conflict without casualties is a choice and a skill that can be learned, like any other skill.

So stop being ‘the nice guy/gal’ manager. Be the transformative leader that understands and embraces the need for negative feedback. Your people really do want to know where they stand and are hungry for opportunities for development. Don’t stand in their way by coddling or feeding them fake positives.

I offer 360, leadership, management, and executive development assessment tools, and coaching to help you learn how to deliver feedback with tact and diplomacy.

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