Does the word feedback make you quiver with anxiety, or get ready to learn and change? I think the answer to this depends on your frame of reference – and whether or not you have ever been on the receiving end of helpful and critical feedback, or if you have just been the dish of the day. I've seen both.
There is no arguing (I hope) that giving and receiving quality feedback is like the kale of today's workplace – it's good for you, has long term health benefits (for the organization), and makes everyone feel better and more virtuous. The critical word here though is quality, and so the purpose of today's blog post is to share what I have learned about both giving and receiving quality feedback.
Firstly let's establish some ground rules around giving feedback. First up is what I call "a walk in the hall of mirrors"... why are you doing this? Is it to help the person to do better, managing a performance problem or getting something off your chest? You need to be clear about the intent up front – and ensure that feedback is focused on helping people to understand the effects of their actions on others. There are other times and places more appropriate for other corrective actions, it's best not to confuse these.
The actual process of giving feedback revolves around four key steps, and as with all things worth doing well, the first step, Preparing to Talk, requires the most time and thoughtfulness. The king of preparation is clarity – are you clear about what you want to say, what your desired change is, and why it matters? Choosing an appropriate time and place, and signaling that you want to have a discussion outside of normal work in progress will make sure that you are set up for a constructive chat, not an ambush. Once your meeting has been set up and underway, you need to focus on Giving the Message. I always start with a question.... "how are you getting on, how are things working for you?" You may find that they are already aware there is an issue. Again clarity is your friend, be concise. Describe the impact of the person's behavior. Start with something positive and then move on to the issue. Explain what you would like the person to do instead. During the conversation, you need to try to Reach Understanding. Listen to the responses of this person and then give examples of what you are trying to say. Then give more examples. Check that the person understands what is being said. Finally when you feel the message is understood you need to Resolve and Close. Move on to finding ways to resolve the issues. Offer suggestions, but not instruction or advice, and leave room for the person to make a choice about what to do. The most effective tool you have is the ability to be quiet. Sometimes I leave myself a note on my pad to ensure I do just that – the space gives everybody time to think.
And now to the other side – being on the receiving end of feedback, and again I'd like to offer four suggestions. The first one is the key. Ask for feedback. Encourage people to give you feedback and stop waiting for it to find you! For many reasons people are hesitant to give good feedback so start the process for them. So whether it just comes to you or you invite feedback, you need to Listen Openly and Carefully, and resist the impulse to interrupt, disagree or digress. I've found it helps to take notes during this bit, to occupy hands and mind and to ensure you have clarity about what is being said. Check what you have heard – and ask for examples and suggestions of what might work better. Finally take some time to Reflect on what you have heard, and ask for some time to digest. Feedback is information for you to use, not an obligation to change. If you are not sure about the validity of what you have heard, check it out with other people and then decide what you want to do. Go back and close the loop with the person who offered you feedback and inform them of your choices. And remember at all times, unless the feedback is coming from your nearest and dearest....it's not personal.
I hope that you find these points food for thought (there's that kale reference again). The actual process of giving and receiving quality feedback is actually incredibly complex and vital, and I hope I haven't shortchanged it too much in this short blog post. If I could just summarise by paraphrasing Ken Blanchard... "(If) Feedback is the breakfast of champions", maybe we should all be eating more kale.