The Art of Giving and Receiving Feedback

Managers dread giving it.  Employees cringe at receiving it. 

The word feedback has a terrible reputation. 

Yet, it is undoubtedly one of our most important tools to achieve growth, deepen our connections and improve performance. 

How do we master this art? 

The mere mention of someone saying, “Come to my office I have some feedback to give you” can make us stop in our tracks and conjure frightening ideas of all we’ve done wrong.

It’s hard to say which is more difficult to give or receive feedback.

In the first instance, we are tasked with telling a person their weak points which aren’t the most pleasant of tasks. 

In a recent survey done by Harvard Business Review, they found that 44% of managers believed that giving developmental feedback was stressful or difficult. 

On the other hand, receiving feedback involves listening to what you did wrong, which no one wants to listen to. 

It’s hard to hear criticism, even if it is positive.

The first step to getting us on the right track is to determine what we shouldn’t do. 

What makes feedback “bad”?

Where did Feedback go Wrong?

Well, in reality, feedback didn’t do anything wrong per se. 

It is us, the human race, who have used it in a less than ideal way. 

What has caused us to associate this word with negative connotations?

  • Lack of engagement from the giver.  This could stem from feeling uncomfortable, insufficient skills, or fear of the employee’s reaction among others. 
  • Lack of reception from the receiver.   Often, when the feedback is taken personally, it creates reactions like shutting down and/or getting defensive, which tends to harm relationships instead of enhancing them. 
  • Lack of clarity in communication.   When either party isn’t clear in the message they want to convey it tends to result in a negative interaction. Where one or both parties leave feeling misunderstood or unheard. 

Why is Feedback Key?

It is clear so far that it’s no easy task to deal with feedback. 

So, why go through all this trouble?

Something amazing can happen when two people sit together and seek to listen and understand each other. 

Caring, trust, and vulnerability create fertile soil to plant the seeds of real connection.

You create a culture where leaders look after their employees and that in return increases engagement, develops performance, and fosters a positive atmosphere. 

Feedback when done right has the power to motivate and result in personal and professional growth. So, how do we do it right?

Mastering the Art

If we break down the components of feedback we can find three elements: the giver, the message and the receiver

The Giver

Open-mindedness, empathy, and teamwork must be present at the time we offer feedback. 

To make sure, as a leader, you are prepared to give feedback ask yourself these questions beforehand:

  1. Can I separate the person from the problem? 
  2. Do I want to listen to their perspective?
  3. Am I willing to provide support to overcome the problem and tackle it as a team?

Another element to keep in mind is the timing

We want to try our best so that both you and the receiver are in a good place mentally to have this conversation. 

Once you know as the giver you’re ready, you can check in by saying: “Can I offer you some feedback?”

It provides the receiver with the courtesy of asking, starting with a positive tone.

The Receiver

We know that we all have room for improvement, yet we are reluctant to hear how we can improve. 

We can turn this around by acknowledging that by receiving feedback we are learning important information about ourselves or our work that can lead to the growth that we seek. 

This change in mindset can make all the difference.

Be grateful to listen to the guidance on what you can do better and ask questions to clarify what steps you can take to correct and improve. 

The Message

Clear is kind.  Unclear is unkind. – Brené Brown, Dare to Lead. 

Beating around the bush, walking on eggshells, and another number of metaphors dealing with lack of clarity when we talk to protect either ourselves or others end up hurting more than they help. 

The greatest disservice we can do is not speak clearly.

For both the receiver and giver to be understood better check the following when communicating your message:

SPECIFICAll your reports are very confusing.Your last report wasn’t as clear as we needed it to be. 
DESCRIPTIVEMake the report clearer. What do you think about adding data to back up your information, and using bullet points to ease reading.

Positive Feedback Culture

Last but not least, they say that no feedback is positive feedback.  This is not the culture you want to promote. 

If we never hear positive feedback, and only get called out for negative feedback this can create resentment in the employees. 

Whereas, if you regularly practice giving positive feedback, a baseline of confidence and appreciation is created which allows employees to thrive and when they receive negative feedback it allows them to receive it much more gracefully since they know there are many things they do well.

Tiara Hoquee

Psychologist and Emotional Intelligence Coach

Further readings:

How To Uncover Our Blind Spots: Unconscious Bias In Leadership?

How Can A Leader Give Positive Criticism To His Teammates?

State Management – Instant Change of Emotion

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