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Executive Corner – It’s Just A Conversation–Giving and Receiving Feedback

Michael Clegg | 09/20/2023

Feedback is a powerful tool for personal and professional growth and improvement. This is widely known and understood, so why is it so hard to give and receive?

Fear of judgment is something that everyone experiences, whether you admit it or not. There’s a way to train yourself to detach yourself from the emotion attached to that feedback or judgment.

Feedback is hard to give and take because, by nature, we don’t like being critiqued, and we don’t like being critical of others. Sometimes, it can be hard because feedback can be charged by emotion.

Psychologists theorize that criticism is linked to childhood memories. The feeling of receiving feedback can be associated with critical comments we may have heard from teachers or parents while growing up.

It hurts our ego.

Another thing to consider is that we have an even harder time giving and receiving feedback from people we don’t trust. This goes for new and existing relationships where the bond of trust isn’t very strong. This can be said for workplace cultures where psychological safety is not valued or not apparent in the organization at all. Psychological safety is the foundation of trust. When individuals feel psychologically safe, they know they can express their thoughts and opinions without fearing negative consequences.

As a new professional, I struggled with giving others difficult feedback.  I had such a strong desire to be liked.  I knew that I was supposed to be respected before being liked.  It didn’t matter.  I was in my first leadership role. I had a small team.  One of the team members was a former peer of mine.  He struggled in a couple of areas, especially with his use of humor.  Sometimes, he went too far and was inappropriate in front of clients.  I witnessed this for a few years and never addressed it because he was my peer.  I didn’t think it was my responsibility to give him that feedback.  I wasn’t his boss.  It would have saved me a lot of time and energy.  When I became his boss, I had to address it.  When I gave him feedback that his humor was often inappropriate, he asked me how long I felt that way.  I had to tell him for some time.  He asked me why it took me so long to give him feedback.  He was upset with me.  Part of me was disappointed that he was surprised that he was being inappropriate, but that was my reaction to his disdain.  This was a valuable lesson for me to provide feedback immediately.  Don’t wait because it makes things worse.  We are all responsible for providing feedback at all levels.  Not just the leadership level.

75% of employees view feedback as valuable, but only 30% receive feedback.

Understanding the Nature of Feedback

It’s crucial to recognize that feedback often reveals more about the giver than the recipient. When you offer feedback, you share your perspective, shaped by your filters, biases, and experiences. This realization should lead to a sense of humility and self-awareness. Your personal opinion is just that—an opinion. Most things in this world are opinions.

The first thing to understand about giving feedback is that your viewpoint may not represent an objective truth.

Effective feedback relies on clear and respectful communication. Before you set out to give feedback, make sure you understand your intentions.

·        Ask yourself what you hope to achieve through this feedback.

·        Are you trying to assist the person in improving, strengthening your relationship, or addressing a specific issue?

On the other hand, receiving feedback can be tough, especially when the recipient is prone to taking things personally. It’s human nature.

But feedback is just a conversation.

How to Give Constructive Feedback

1. Ask for Permission

Feedback should be viewed as a gift, and giving and receiving it should be a choice. When you’re uncertain about providing feedback to someone, especially a stranger or someone intimidating, ask for permission. It’s a simple yet powerful step that can make the process smoother.

For example, you can say, “I noticed a couple of things in that meeting that went well and could have been improved. Would you like to hear them?”

2. Understand Your Intention & Avoid Being Critical

Having self-awareness plays a pivotal role in feedback exchanges. However, individuals have varying levels of self-awareness, and it’s not always apparent where someone stands on that spectrum. It’s crucial to strike the right balance between care and directness. You might start with a caring approach and gradually increase being more direct as needed.

You can use “I language” to express your experiences and opinions. This approach takes ownership of your feelings and reduces the likelihood of the recipient feeling attacked or criticized.

Instead of this > “You weren’t as concise as you could have been during that presentation.”

Try this > “I know how much preparation you put into that meeting, and it showed. I noticed some spots weren’t as concise as they could have been.”

This feedback takes any tone of blame and turns it into constructive feedback rather than criticism.

By saying “I” instead of “you,” you’re being intentional with your feedback and changing what could be perceived as critiquing or “attacking” the other into positive, constructive feedback.

3. Provide Actionable Feedback

Feedback should be forward-looking and actionable. Instead of dwelling solely on past mistakes or issues, focus on what specific changes or actions you’d like to see in the future. Making clear requests can guide the recipient toward positive behavior changes.


How to Receive Feedback

Receiving feedback can be just as hard as providing feedback. There are a few important things to keep in mind when receiving feedback:

·        Be Open and Approachable – Create an environment where people feel comfortable giving you feedback. Encourage open communication and assure others that their feedback is valued.

  • Actively Seek Feedback – Actively request feedback from colleagues, peers, supervisors, and team members. Let them know that you genuinely want to hear their thoughts and suggestions.
  • Listen Actively – When someone provides feedback, listen attentively without interrupting. Show that you’re engaged and interested in what they have to say.
  • Stay Calm and Non-Defensive – This one can be hard but try to keep your emotions in check. Avoid becoming defensive or confrontational even if the feedback is challenging to hear. Remember that feedback is an opportunity to learn and grow.
  • Ask Clarifying Questions – Seek clarity by asking questions to understand the feedback better. This shows that you value the person’s input and are committed to improvement.
  • Avoid Making Immediate Judgments – Don’t rush to judge or dismiss the feedback. Reflect on it, especially if it’s critical or surprising.
  • Show Gratitude – Regardless of the nature of the feedback, express gratitude for the person’s willingness to provide it. This encourages ongoing communication.
  • Take Notes – Jot down the feedback so you can review it later. This helps you remember the details and consider how to address each point.
  • Reflect on the Feedback – After the feedback session, take some time to think about what was shared. Consider the validity of the feedback and how it aligns with your goals and values.
  • Look for Patterns – If you receive similar feedback from multiple sources, it may indicate a consistent issue that needs attention.
  • Create an Action Plan – Based on your reflection, decide how you want to address the feedback. Identify specific actions or changes you can make to improve.
  • Follow Up – If appropriate, follow up with the person who provided the feedback to inform them about the steps you’ve taken to address it. This demonstrates your commitment to growth.
  • Track Progress – Monitor your progress in implementing changes based on the feedback. Keep track of how these changes impact your performance and relationships.
  • Seek Additional Input – As you work on improvement, continue seeking feedback to gauge your progress. Regular check-ins can help ensure that you’re on the right track.
  • Stay Patient and Persistent – Personal and professional growth takes time. Be patient with yourself as you make changes and persist in improving.

Giving and receiving feedback can forge stronger bonds between individuals by fostering human connection and trust. When feedback is delivered with empathy and understanding, it addresses specific issues and demonstrates a genuine concern for the well-being and growth of the other person. This approach builds a foundation of trust, as it conveys the intent to support and uplift one another. Over time, as trust deepens, so does the willingness to engage in open, honest, and constructive feedback exchanges, further strengthening the relationship and creating a positive feedback loop of mutual respect and growth.

Remember, it’s just a conversation.


Source: Lattice  Oak Engage Harvard Business Review

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