Feedback: Giving and Getting

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Ask anyone if they like getting feedback and they’ll almost certainly say ‘yes’. However, fewer people like giving feedback as that’s a potential minefield.  Since most feedback doesn’t fall into the “you’re really great” category, consider the following when giving feedback:

  • Timing: It’s important to deliver feedback in a timely fashion, particularly if it’s around a specific incident. The more time that passes, the harder it will be to effectively give feedback. If you wait, what will you say when you’re asked, “Why did you wait so long to tell me?” You also want to give feedback while the events and details are fresh in both your and the recipients mind.
  • Prepare: Take time prepare before you give feedback. This is especially important if the feedback is ‘negative’ and if the recipient may not take the feedback as intended. Know what you’re going to say in advance, how it may be taken and how you will respond.
  • Audience: Be conscious of how you phrase your feedback – packaging is everything. While you don’t want your feedback watered down like a Happy Hour drink, successful feedback requires considering the feelings and disposition of the receiver. Will they understand what you mean and what your intentions are?  Are your words “loaded” or “negative”? Are you being too vague? Remember – you’re selling someone your observations on how they can be more successful – make sure you package your message well and that the packaging allows the consumer to see what’s inside. Ask yourself, “Is what I am about to say REALLY likely to give me the result I want?”
  • Motivation: Why are you giving the feedback? Is it out of a genuine interest in someone else’s success or are you frustrated by their behavior on some level? Giving feedback out of frustration or a desire to “give someone something to think about” will backfire in almost all cases. Make sure you are coming from a good place and that your motivation is beyond reproach.
  • Brevity: You will probably be telling someone something that will be hard to hear, so be brief, clear and to the point. Repeating the feedback over and over can
    backfire, so phrase your feedback well and deliver it once. In almost all cases, if you’re clear and brief, the feedback will be understood on the first pass.
  • Moving On: Once you’ve given the feedback, don’t dwell on it, don’t apologize, over-explain, etc.; just move on. If the recipient approaches you and asks for further feedback, then do so cautiously. This probably isn’t a request for you to completely unload, so consider that while it’s difficult to hear negative feedback, its more difficult to ask for more. Don’t be the one to “follow up” with them at a later date.

While giving feedback isn’t always easy, getting feedback can be tough, too.  Why?  Because it’s about YOU.  It’s tough to hear something that runs contrary to your image of yourself.  Hell, I’m no different.  But learning how to GET feedback is essential to your continued success in building your brand, improving your performance and growing as a human being.  A few tips:

What You Should NOT Do:

  • Get Defensive: Listen through the pain and hear what the speaker is telling you.  While you may not agree, the fact is that THIS IS WHAT IS BEING PERCEIVED and if one person sees it, others probably do, too.  I’d say “don’t take it personally” but it’s kind of hard when the feedback is about you.  We teach people how to treat us and if you teach people that we don’t take well-intentioned feedback well, then people will stop trying to help you.
  • Explain: This is a HUGE mistake and is a corollary of the above.  Explaining tells the speaker “it’s not me, it’s you – if I can just straighten you out (as well as the rest of the world), then I can go back to what I was doing before you came and
    offered me your precious feedback.” This is a great way to indirectly tell someone who they don’t know what they’re talking about.  They may well BE wrong, but the fact remains that this is their perception and it’s likely that others perceive the same thing.  Remember – it’s hard enough to give feedback. Don’t make it harder by showing people they’re wasting their time in taking a chance on you.
  • Interrupt: Another great way to say “Talk to the hand, cuz the face ain’t listening” (most effective in the Ali G accent) is to cut off the speaker.  Listen
    through the pain and deal with it.  Interrupting may well stop the flow of potentially valuable information.  Shut up and take it in.
  • Judge: Even if the feedback is poorly or even rudely given, listen.  Even an idiot can provide valuable information.  Withhold your judgment – get the feedback while it’s hot.

What You SHOULD Do:

  • Listen: Take it all in, even if you dislike or disagree what you’re hearing.
  • Keep Your Poker Face: Even if it hurts, you can’t show it.  Why?  The speaker may be quite stressed, giving you feedback that isn’t positive.  Be conscious of your body language and nonverbal queues.  Your aim is to keep the information flowing and to make the speaker “feel safe”.
  • Reflect: Even if the feedback is poorly given, do they have a point?  Might they be right?  Think about it – ask a “trusted advisor” or significant other if you have to.
  • Get Cool With It: Talking to your friends, peers, trusted advisors or significant other will help you get past hearing bad feedback so you can figure out how you’re going to change your behavior and apply what you’ve heard.  No need to go it alone – reach out to those around you.  You’ll find more solace than you realize if you can allow yourself to be vulnerable.

You can’t escape the fact that you’re going to have to give and get feedback in your role as a leader and as a team member.  Make sure you’re head is in the best place to make the most of feedback, whether its coming FROM you or TO you.

© 2011 – Mark E. Calabrese

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