What to do when your feedback doesn’t land?

You might have heard — feedback is a gift. And so, the receiver is free to do with it as they please.

But what to do when it’s crucial that your feedback is received and acted upon?

You’ve tried all the usual approaches. You’ve tried first connecting with them by listening with empathy and making sure they feel heard. You’ve given them plenty of space both to receive and process the feedback, and to act on it. You’ve been direct with them, and you’ve asked them to reflect on what they’ve heard. But none of that seems to have any effect on their behavior. Now what?

It’s not me, it’s you

First, it’s important to understand whom the feedback is intended to serve. If it’s primarily the receiver, then your job might be done here.

A common theme I notice with early career managers, especially those considering themselves servant leaders. They often feel responsible for their employee’s growth and development, and consider it their personal failure if their employee fails.

The reality is, you have no control over other people’s actions. No wonder so many first-time managers burn out — it’s exhausting to feel responsible for something you have no control over.

You can only create the conditions for your employee’s growth — hold yourself accountable to that. But the rest is up to them.

Don’t wrap your ego in other people’s failures and successes. It serves neither them nor you.

It’s not you, it’s me

But what if it’s not about them, and others are involved? What if your feedback is about their harmful behavior?

Then it might be time to reach for another tool. Such as expectations or boundary setting.

The most significant difference between feedback and setting an expectation or a boundary is that the feedback is primarily about the receiver. You’re offering them something about them. You must focus on them and resist the urge to make it about anybody else.

But when you’re setting an expectation or a boundary, it’s all about you or other people you represent. And you must focus on you and your needs, and resist the urge to make it about them.

Say, you don’t want your drunk cousin at your godson’s birthday party, and she has been warned before. You don’t give her the usual Situation-Behavior-Impact story: “Sorry, Bellatrix, when you came to Harry’s birthday drunk, it frightened the kids and created a lot of problems for me with their parents. What do you think?”

No, you set a clear and firm boundary: “Bellatrix, I need you to stay away from Harry’s parties when you’re drunk. Or I will never invite you again. Do you understand? Repeat what I just said.”

Choose the language appropriate for your situation, of course.

Read more about setting clear boundaries at work in a way that respects everybody’s needs.