The 5 Degrees of Feedback

How Hot Can You Go?

By Liz Bentley

We all know that feedback is critical to growth in the workplace and in our lives.  But how much can you really take?  And to what degree does this relate to your emotional intelligence? 

In my experience, there is a direct correlation.  People with higher emotional intelligence are not surprised by negative or let’s say constructive feedback they receive.  They also know the unique strengths they bring to their job.  Generally, they are connected to how people receive them and their impact on others.  And most importantly, they understand that agility in the workplace means to constantly be evolving around feedback to grow.  They also get that both technical feedback, “This product isn’t selling,” and personal feedback, “You have bad breath,” need to be heard to course correct and thrive.

To understand feedback more deeply, we have created a heat scale off of the Scoville Scale of hot peppers. Here is an opportunity to assess, how hot can you go?

Banana Pepper – This is the lightweight feedback. It comes in small suggestions that are more technically based than personal.  For example – “Why don’t you add a weekly team meeting for better communication and synergy?”

Jalapeño – It’s getting a tad bit hotter, still technical but a little more personal.  “Your presentations would be better if you cleaned up your slides, gave a little less detail and improved eye contact.”

Cayenne – Now we are starting to heat up.  This is where your character flaws are showing up but it’s still palatable.  “When you don’t speak in meetings, people think you are disinterested and you come across aloof.”

Habanero – Feeling it!  Hot around the collar, now we are just getting personal.  “Your shrill voice is off-putting and diminishes your presence and ability to lead effectively.”

Komodo Dragon – House on fire! Now it really hurts.  This feedback can feel deeply personal and very hard to hear. “People think you are selfish.  You only fight for your team and your projects without the consideration of others and the entire company.  You are late to meetings, create urgency unnecessarily and make everyone feel like the world revolves around your time only.”

So here’s the deal, we need to hear all 5 degrees of feedback at different points in our career in order to grow.  None of us only need the Banana Pepper even though we would all like to believe that’s it. But the truth is the Komodo Dragon lives in all of us at one point or another and to really grow we are going to need to be able to hear it.

Additionally, we need to be able to give it or provide the resources to have a coach deliver hard feedback through a 360° Review.  On many occasions, I’ve had a client fire an employee who’s shocked to hear it didn’t work out. This should never happen! As a leader, the onus is on you to speak with clarity and to make sure the feedback is clear and being heard.

Here is an example of what Kim Scott, whose accomplished career includes management positions at Google and Apple, calls “radical candor.” In this clip, she describes receiving what I’d describe as Jalapeño Feedback from her boss, Sheryl Sandberg. 
It’s important to note that you shouldn’t seek to be brutally honest for honesty’s sake. You need to provide the hotter types of feedback because you care about the person and their growth.

So remember – give feedback, get feedback and don’t be afraid of the heat!