Wise Feedback for a Thriving Team
“I only feel good about myself when I get critical feedback,” said no one, ever.
Sure, many of us talk the talk.
“I really want to improve so please give me feedback.”
But if we’re being honest with ourselves, while we know we need feedback to get better, what we really want is to be told how good we already are.
That’s why in a sea of satisfied clients, it’s the single one-star review that keeps us up at night fuming about how *wrong* that person was.
It’s also why so many veterinary leaders struggle with giving effective, quality feedback.
The good news is, these are skills that can be built. Positive Leaders do indeed build them, with intention and practice. As a result, they tend to lead high-performing, positive teams.
How do they do it?
One way involves utilizing motivating set-up phrases.
Giving Feedback, Better
Many veterinary leaders are unwittingly skilled at cultivating mistrust in their teams. More often than not, it’s unintentional. But it still happens.
I’ve seen the cycle play out countless times.
One example - a new tech joins the team. They tape an IV catheter “the wrong way.” The lead tech tells them, “You’re doing it wrong,” and explains the “right” way to do it. A week later the new tech does it wrong again. Frustrated, the lead tech repeats the prior week’s mantra.
Over time, in the mind of the new tech, “you’re doing it wrong” turns into something is wrong with me. Something is wrong with me turns into fear which leads to resentment and mistrust. Eventually, apathy sets in and motivation plummets. This is about the time the lead tech starts thinking, “this new tech isn’t going to make it here.”
Eventually, the new tech quits.
In an effort to help the new tech improve, the lead tech has actually made things worse.
I know the vast majority of veterinary leaders don’t plan to demotivate their team. They genuinely want to help them be better!
And research has shown us some effective tools for providing feedback that both motivates and improves.
In one study, students were instructed to write an essay about a hero of theirs. Teachers were instructed to provide written feedback on the essays as they normally would.
In the control group, the students got their marked-up essays back prefaced with the message, “I’m giving you these comments so you’ll have feedback on your paper.”
In essence, “I’m telling you what you’ve done wrong.”
In the experimental group, the students got their marked-up paper back prefaced with the message, “I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations AND I know that you can meet them.”
Here’s the catch – the teachers had no idea the students were getting these messages before receiving their feedback.
Afterwards, students were encouraged to revise the essay, if they wished to.
Those who were told, “I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations AND I know you can meet them,” chose to revise their papers over 40% more often than the control group.
Oh, but it gets better – among the group most mistrusting of teachers, revision rates improved by 320%!
Follow-up grades also vastly improved.
This feedback preamble works because:
It signals belonging – you are a part of this team
It moderates self-identification – it’s not about YOU as a person, it’s about our high standards
It boosts self-efficacy – I believe in you
Here are some variations you can use the next time you provide feedback to someone on your team:
“I’m giving you these comments because I have high expectations and I know that you can meet them” (The OG version)
“These comments I’m about to give you are critical. I hope they are also helpful. Remember, I wouldn’t be giving them to you if I didn’t believe you could meet them.”
“This may be challenging to hear but I believe in you and your ability to succeed.”
Leaders who use these phrases consistently and with genuine belief develop thriving, motivated teams that learn and grow.
Positive Leaders take it a step further and close the psychological safety loop by seeking useful feedback in return.
“I have high expectations of myself and hope to meet them so I can better support you. At our last meeting I provided you some critical feedback – how could I have delivered it more effectively?”
Imagine if the lead tech had taken this route. Not only would that new tech likely still be working there – he may even be helping others grow and improve.