Many of us can think back to a time when we put someone on the defensive while trying to help them improve—an anxious and frustrating situation for everyone involved. On the other hand, perhaps you have felt somewhat incompetent or unappreciated after receiving feedback from a peer.
In the workplace, feedback is one of the most valuable performance improvement tools for leaders and their teams, yet it can often be a source of anxiety or even animosity. Fortunately, the secrets to constructive feedback can be applied with a bit of focused learning.
Giving and receiving feedback are skills that require nurturing. By cultivating an understanding of the difference between helpful and detrimental feedback (not to be confused with positive and negative feedback), you can avoid misunderstandings and build stronger, more effective working relationships.
Detrimental feedback most likely…
- Is directed globally at the receiver, rather than at a specific behaviour, action or issue
- Lacks a helpful alternative or suggests change that is almost impossible to make
- Serves the interests of the giver but not the receiver of the feedback
- Sounds insincere or contrived, which can be both patronizing and counterproductive
- Is so overwhelmingly negative that it’s often difficult for the receiver to move forward
Conversely, helpful feedback almost always…
- Makes the receiver feel valued and secure
- Distinguishes between the receiver as a person and the specific behaviour or action that is being discussed
- Keeps the interests of the receiver front and center
- Is delivered in a trusting context using a supportive approach
In my executive feedback work, I often work with leaders to put effective feedback into practice. Since the experiences of giving feedback to a direct report, a colleague and a boss can be very different, some strategies for each of these three groups include:
- Be open-minded and make sure that your views are offered as a suggestion, not a command. When giving feedback to a direct report, it’s important to be aware of the tendency to speak authoritatively. Take care to leave a window open for different perspectives to be considered.
- Be descriptive and explain your views as objectively as possible. When giving feedback to a colleague at your level, focus on giving actionable insight into what occurred and its impact on others. Avoid prescribing how the person should think or feel about the behaviour. Trust in their ability to decide what to do with the insight that you’ve offered.
- Be direct and avoid burying your point in abstract concepts or flowery language. When speaking with a boss, it is particularly important to say what you mean, and not just what you think the person wants to hear. Remember, clear and honest feedback is a signal of respect, not subversion.
As a leader, it is just as important to be effective in receiving feedback as in giving it. A few strategies to get actionable feedback include:
- Be explicit and ask for the type of feedback that you want (or don’t want) to receive. Your direct reports usually have insight into what’s working and what’s not working at an operational level, so it’s important to make it known that their opinions are welcome and valued.
- Be aware of the thought patterns and emotional reactions that you may have in response to the feedback that you receive. Avoid dismissing viewpoints that may differ from your own perceptions. When receiving suggestions from peers, it’s helpful to look at the information from a third-party perspective.
- Be silent and resist the urge to immediately respond to the feedback that you’re given. Take in both the positive and negative, and avoid formulating a response until after the feedback has been fully received, understood and discussed. When receiving feedback from your boss, it may be tempting to defend yourself, but, ultimately, you’re much more likely to earn respect by graciously accepting feedback and working to understand it then by debating the validity of it.
If handled effectively, feedback can become a source of mutual trust and affirmation of the value of your relationships. Have you been the receiver of great feedback from a direct report, colleague or supervisor? If so, I encourage you to put these strategies into play and let them know how and why their feedback was useful to you.
If you’d like to significantly improve and deepen the quality of feedback you receive, contact me today (email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250-882-8830).