To avoid more detailed feedback and the full debrief for correcting weak performance, team members sometimes say they own the problem, even when they don’t. To get the monkey (you) off their back, as the saying goes, they offer happy talk and tell leaders they “get it” and are on the path to incorporating the feedback they have received. When little changes, this subterfuge begins all over again.
Knowing whether a team member accepts, owns, and can act on feedback is relatively straightforward. The best leaders live by this feedback rule: If the other party can’t give you examples of how they would apply the feedback, then they don’t understand it and they don’t own it.
In other words, if they can’t supply the leader with examples of the feedback in action they haven’t internalized the feedback to the point where they can benefit from it.
Asking for examples of how the team member will utilize the feedback is an easy add-on when delivering the suggestion, or a leader can inquire about examples in a subsequent conversation. In either case, the leader needs to push for specificity. The more detailed and specific the examples are, the more likely it is the team member is ready to press forward with the feedback.
Team members who can’t, or won’t, provide examples for what they will do or have already done are sending a loud message of resistance to the leader. Exploring the reasons for this unwillingness is a natural next step, but it is common for team members to deflect feedback simply because they can.
The best leaders ask for examples as a way to push through this resistance and to encourage team members to truly own the problem and act on it. Anything less is just masquerade for, “Thanks, but no thanks.”