Can I give you some feedback?
Probably one of the most feared questions in the workplace. For most people, the word ‘feedback’ elicits a fairly reflexive response that tends to lean towards the defence, worry or irritation parts of our psyches. It definitely doesn’t have a good rep, right?
And with good reason. How many of you have received feedback that has left you annoyed, confused or frustrated? Or how many times have you wanted to give feedback to someone but either failed to do it completely, or failed to do it well, leaving you with the sense that the message hasn’t landed. Perhaps you’re in a position where you’re dying to get some useful feedback about how you’re doing but you’re getting generalisms or no comment at all.
It’s a tough one. Motivations or intentions can be doubted. Observations can be turned into subjective statements and judgements. Feelings can be hurt, relationships damaged. Performance can stall, frustrations can multiply, and morale can plummet. Getting it wrong can have wide-reaching implications…
But getting it right can be transformational. A simple, honest and caring conversation can provide you with enlightenment. It can release pressure, unblock thinking and give permission to learn and grow. Fostering a culture of regular, honest and grounded feedback will enhance engagement, reduce conflict and unlock the potential of your organisation or team.
Here are our some of our ideas on how you can get better at giving feedback -
1. Focus on the good stuff!
One of the issues in play here is that as humans, our brains are not wired to receive criticism or negativity well. It fires up our sympathetic nervous system which reduces our capacity to be open or receptive to the message – we go into fight or flight mode. However, when we receive positive feedback and praise, our parasympathetic nervous system kicks in which allows us to be more open to learning. Basically, we can build on our strengths more easily than tackle our weaknesses, so make a conscious effort to spend more time telling people when you think they’re nailing it!
2. Be specific on the context
No-one likes hearing that ‘sometimes they’re a bit…’ or that they ‘tend to be quite’ at the start of feedback. Use a specific example of a time and place so that they can reconnect with their memory of the experience to help process your feedback, for example:
“Yesterday in the meeting with Dan….”
“I wanted to talk to you about the email you sent to Emma earlier today”
3. Describe before you evaluate
This is the old ‘one person’s aggressive is another’s assertive’, but it’s true. We all see the world differently and place judgements on what we see. Let’s be honest, there is no such thing as the perfect way to give a presentation, respond to an email or show up in a meeting. Start by thinking about what the person actually did/didn’t do that led you to that judgement and talk about that when giving the feedback, for example:
“I noticed that you interrupted him a few times…”
“You used the phrase ‘I don’t see why this of your concern’”
4. Ask questions
You don’t know the intention that the person had in the given circumstance – you’re only guessing. Asking questions can help you understand what was happening and can also help the receiver consider the impact. Using open questions before even going into the description of what you saw/read/heard might be enough for them to start reflecting on what happened and open up the conversation, for example:
“I wanted to talk to you about yesterday’s meeting with Dan. How did you feel when you left the meeting?”
“What was the reason you said that? What was your intention with the email?”
5. Be honest about how you feel/what you think
Having provided a specific context, described what you saw and asked questions the final piece of advice is to be honest about the impact on you. Say how you feel or what it’s made you think. Remember that feedback is predominantly subjective – unless the task has a definitive right/wrong way of doing it – so you can only talk about the impact it had on you. Be honest about this: it’s far more helpful to the person than skirting around the issue or downplaying it, for example:
“I thought that when you interrupted Dan the third time he looked annoyed and I felt worried that he wasn’t hearing the validity behind what you were trying to say. I know you had a great point to make and I felt frustrated that this was possibly lost.”
“I feel that that phrase is quite confrontational – I would be annoyed if I read that in an email”
The trick with all of this is to do it often. When we get into the habit of giving specific and honest feedback, it becomes less of a thing. Leaving it to a quarterly review meeting (or even worse, an annual performance review) means that whatever you say will be amplified so make a conscious effort to tell people what you think about them regularly. Do it with kindness, positive intent and a mindset of growth that hopefully means you both get something out of the conversation.