Awhile ago I was chatting with a group of professionals and the topic of “feedback” came up. Most of the group cringed, likely remembering a time when they received something unsolicited or overly harsh from a peer or supervisor. Feedback is an interesting thing…both essential to our continued growth and development as professionals, and often tinged with guilt, shame and defensiveness.
“Feedback is any response, positive or negative, that is given to someone else about the impact of their behaviour.”
Every leader I’ve ever met wants to know what kind of impact they’re having on employees, colleagues and their organization. And when it comes to impact, all of us want to have a positive impact. Our intention is to be a resource; helpful, present and attuned to their needs. Unfortunately our impact isn’t always felt that way. Sometimes, despite our best intentions and efforts, people might experience us in ways that damage our relationships and disconnect us.
The above questions are important, however, the answers to these questions can remain elusive and unanswered. We have a tough time giving and receiving good, honest and useful feedback because we’re often afraid of causing the other person pain, or feeling the pain of guilt that can come with receiving constructive feedback.
Other times we might simply not have the energy to engage in tough conversations, or we might have difficulty in separating out feedback on our character (who we are) with feedback about a process (what we did/didn’t do).
Often we have strong emotions attached to our work, and those emotions can manifest in unhelpful ways while trying to give and receive feedback.
Here’s the thing, though.
You’re always getting feedback. It’s present in every single interaction with another person. From eye contact, tone of voice and body language, to what people are actually saying and whether or not they’re even willing to engage in a conversation with you, every response that we get to our actions is a form of feedback.
If you’re looking for it, you’ll start to see it everywhere. You’ll start being able to track your impact, and take steps to align that impact with your good intentions.
In Right Use of Power: The Heart of Ethics (2015), author Cedar Barstow offers many practical strategies for giving, receiving and using feedback to encourage open and authentic communication, keep your relationships current and alive and learn more about yourself and your impact on others.
Here are four ways to build your skills with feedback;
- Asking for Feedback: Be proactive. Ask often, and be specific in your request: “I’m curious about how you experience my ________ (name a behaviour).” Be sure to get feedback from multiple sources.
- Giving Feedback (more at this post): Ask the receiver about their willingness to receive feedback. Be specific and concrete, using examples from the present or recent past. Be cautious not to interpret their behavior. Most importantly, don’t be attached to the outcome. Whether or not that person changes their behaviour is not up to you, they may experience your feedback as a gift or not.
- Receiving Feedback: Relax and take a deep breath. Listen intently and try not to become defensive or explain yourself. Ask for specific examples if the feedback is unclear. Respond to the feedback in a way that encourages future feedback.
- Using Feedback: If the feedback is new, ask around for other’s perceptions. Give challenging feedback some time and space before deciding on how to incorporate it. Try a new behaviour and ask the other person if it’s the kind of outcome they were hoping for.
The best feedback is not a demand for change. It might include a request for change, but the feedback itself is just data, information about your impact on other people (both positive and negative), and a wonderful opportunity to reflect on whether or not that impact is aligning with your intentions.