Keep giving feedback

The failure to give appropriate and timely feedback is the most extreme cruelty that we can inflict on any human being.
– Charles Coonradt,
Management Consultant

Human beings crave feedback.

Try ignoring any 3-year-old. At first, he will ask for positive attention, but if he is continually ignored, soon you will hear a loud crash or cry, because any feedback, even negative feedback, is better than no feedback.

Some people think that principle only applies to children. But it applies even more to adults. The cruelest form of punishment in prison is solitary confinement. Most prisoners will do anything -- even temporarily improve their behavior -- to avoid being in a situation with little or no feedback.

You may have briefly experienced the relaxing effect of a sensory deprivation chamber. You are placed for a few minutes in a dark, cocoon like chamber, floating in body-temperature salt water, with all light and sound cut off. It's great for a few minutes. But not for long.

One day the sole worker at one of these sensory-deprivation tanks walked off the job in a huff over some injustice at work, leaving a customer trapped in the chamber. Several hours later, the customer was rescued but still had to be hospitalized. Not for any physical abuse, but from the psychosis caused by deprivation of sensory feedback. What occurs when all outside feedback is cut off is that the mind manufactures its own sensory feedback in the form of hallucinations that often personify the person's worst fears. The resulting nightmares and terrors can drive even normal people to the point of insanity.

Your own people are no different. If you cut off the feedback, their minds will manufacture their own feedback, quite often based on their worst fears. It's no accident that "trust and communication" are the two organizational problems most often cited by employee surveys.

One of the most notorious military and secret intelligence torture devices over the years has been to place a recalcitrant prisoner into "the black room." The time spent in total sensory deprivation breaks prisoners faster than physical beatings.

Let's take the scene home. The husband is encouraging his wife to get ready for an evening event on time.

She asks, "How does this jacket look on me?"

"Fine, just fine, let's go!"

"Well, I knew I didn't look good in it. I just can't find anything else to wear!" she says.

Human beings crave real feedback, not just some patronizing, pacifying words.

The managers who have the biggest trouble motivating their people are the ones who give the least feedback. And when their people say, "How are we doing?" they say, "Well I don't know, I haven't looked at the printout or anything, but I have a sense that we're doing pretty well this month, but I don't know."

Those managers have a much harder time inspiring achievement in their teams. Achievement requires continuous feedback. And if you're going to get the most out of your people, it's imperative that you be the one who is the most up on what the numbers are and what they mean. Because motivators do their homework. They know the score. And they keep feeding the score back to their people.

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