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A Brief Guide to Fantastic Feedback

Feedback itself is not inherently positive or negative, yet many of us tremble at the thought of it. Feedback is a primary source for ongoing personal and professional growth. Research shows that if we don’t get feedback at work, we become more anxious, less productive, and perhaps even perform more poorly than if we had received it.

As the end of year approaches and the often dreaded performance review looms, let’s reconsider how feedback can be an effective, positive experience.

“ In this new world we have to redefine this word and look at Feedback as a positive, constructive concept that can unleash innovation, solve problems, and create empowerment in the organization.”--Josh Bersin, Principal and Founder, Bersin by Deloitte.

What Makes Feedback Effective?

Think of feedback as someone holding a mirror up to an angle you can't reach so you can see yourself from a different perspective. It provides an opportunity to learn, and, if given and received constructively, can create positive energy. But what does effective feedback look like?

It is timely.

Giving feedback “in the moment” can be awkward and feel highly sensitive.  But who wants to receive feedback on what they did in March during a year-end review? If something needs improvement, start working to improve the situation immediately. If someone does something well, positive feedback will reinforce the behavior.

It is specific.

“Great job!” or “You need some improvement” are not really helpful. Feedback that clearly points to observed behavior or objective standards is easier to understand. It's better to provide specific examples about one's behavior or actions to help the receiver adjust accordingly.

It leads to growth.

The purpose of feedback is to help someone learn, improve, and perform better. If the feedback does not help the receiver to reflect on what success looks like and form actionable steps toward improvement, it will not be effective.

“When you approach the feedback process with good intentions,--with the desire to improve yourself and others-- you are more likely to create the conditions under which that process will be constructive rather than destructive."--William A. Kahn, Professor of Organizational Behavior at Boston University's School of Management.

It Takes Both Givers and Receivers to Make Feedback Effective.

Not every feedback giver is skilled at delivering effective feedback. Fear can get in the way of providing constructive feedback to others--fear of hurting feelings, damaging relationships, and creating vulnerability.

However, feedback givers are investing in the growth of the receiver. Consider the feedback an opportunity to start a dialogue with the receiver about how to improve their work.

This same approach will also benefit receivers, although they may feel like they are in the more vulnerable position! Here are some tips to leverage receiving feedback to become an even better version of yourself.

6 Tips to Take Feedback like a Pro

[Someone] offers feedback not because they want to humiliate you, but because they want you to succeed.” - Kate Matsudaira, entrepreneur and creator

1. Acknowledge defensiveness and set it aside.

It’s completely natural to deny, dismiss, and defend ourselves in a feedback session; but, when we fall into self-defense mode, our ears and minds close, and an opportunity to learn something about ourselves is lost. If we can acknowledge our internal reactions and remind ourselves that feedback is meant to help us succeed, it’s easier to set our emotions aside and absorb the information being offered.

2. Listen actively.

Listen without interrupting…and not just with your words. Stop interrupting the conversation in your head. Your inner voice can be a huge distraction that takes away from the moment. There will be plenty of time to process what you hear later. Be attentive and listen beyond the words. Look beyond the objective data for emotional reactions, facial expressions, and tone of voice. Remember: giving feedback is also very difficult. When you’re open and inviting to feedback, it makes the giver more comfortable as well.

3. Ask questions and explore.

It’s okay to ask questions. It’s better for everyone to come away from the feedback session on the same page than with different understandings or interpretations. Ask for concrete examples that demonstrate the behavior that led to the feedback--not to explain things away, but to understand the other's perceptions. If necessary, explain that you are asking for your own understanding and not to be disagreeable.

4.  Take notes and reflect later.

Focus on capturing the other's thoughts, ideas, data, and other information. You can process the information and decide what to do with it later. In the moment, your goal is to capture all of the feedback being offered so that you can dig into it later when the emotional stakes are lower. If you don’t have something written, it’s very possible that you will only remember things you felt strongly about.

5. Express appreciation.

Acknowledge the risks taken by others to provide candid feedback and thank them. Even if the delivery is not ideal, the feedback is still valuable. Again, giving feedback is challenging and takes great trust. Be grateful someone is willing to provide it to you.

6. Follow up.

Feedback is not a one-time thing. Improvement requires continuous feedback. After your feedback session, reflect on your notes, develop a plan of action, and be sure to follow up with the feedback provider to invite more feedback on your growth. This further demonstrates your commitment to learning from feedback.

What do you find challenging about giving or receiving feedback? Do you have any tips to make it easier?


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