How to Give and Receive Feedback

Over the past few months I’ve learnt a lot about feedback. I’ve been giving lots of feedback on presentations delivered to me as part of an ongoing training programme.

Plus, whilst training to become an accredited coach, I’ve received lots of feedback on my own coaching approach.

Here’s my key lessons.

How to Give Feedback

Giving feedback is a big responsibility. Whether on a specific piece of work or someone’s performance, you’re in a position of power. In contrast, the person receiving it is in a vulnerable state, so think carefully. Do it seriously. Don’t be cavalier or random.

1 Be Balanced

It’s easy to focus in on the negatives when giving feedback. After all, this is where you’re looking to make improvements and it’s tempting to cut to the chase. However, it’s important to be balanced. We have all have a negativity bias. We tend to hear and focus on negatives rather than positives. Therefore, people need to hear the good stuff as well as the more critical elements. Otherwise, it can feel like a destructive conversation. Usually it’s best to start with the positives before moving on the negatives. Some people like to end on a positive note as well.

2 Be Specific

It’s hard to deal with generalities. Don’t say things ‘you always do this.’ Provide examples. Be specific about what it is you loved or what needs improvement. Back this up with evidence. Be clear on the impact it had and the consequences. Try to keep it rational, not personal.

3 Be Helpful

When criticising, don’t simply point out the negatives. Expand. Provide direction, gives suggestions and ideas for the future. Say things like ‘what I want to see more of’, or ‘a way to improve could be’. In my old agency we used to call these ‘how to’s’ (H2s) ie ‘I’ve got a couple of how to’s for you’. Sounds clumsy, but it works.

4 Be Honest

People can tell when you’re being disingenuous, unless you’re a great actor. Pretending that something was great, when it wasn’t is short lived and disingenuous. Equally, failing to point out areas for development does the person no favours. It’ll store up trouble later. Sometimes it can hard, especially if you know the receiver will feel disappointed. However, keeping it specific, balanced and helpful will help overcome this. Equally, don’t hold back on praise when you feel it’s merited.

How to Receive Feedback

I used to find it hard to receive feedback and tended to avoid it. If I heard something critical, however small, I used to dwell on it. My negativity bias would kick in. My insecurities were highlighted. If I felt it was unfair, I used to protest and defend myself.

Now my attitude has changed. I welcome feedback. I see it as a means of improvement. It can be hard but I try to respond rationally. This is what I’ve learnt.

1 Listen Carefully

Start with the assumption that the person giving feedback is there to help and is responding honestly. So listen attentively. Don’t interrupt, Listen to both the good stuff as well as the ‘bad’ stuff. Don’t argue or protest. Just take it in. Avoid an emotional reaction.

2 Clarify

If you don’t understand the feedback or if it feels vague, ask for clarification. It’s important that you’re clear on what’s been said. If necessary, play back the feedback, to make sure you’ve understood.

3 Reflect

Remember, that the feedback you’re receiving is someone’s opinion. In fact you might get different or conflicting feedback from different people. We’re all sensitive. Sometimes we hear things we don’t like or feel are unfair. However, instead of reacting immediately, reflect honestly on what you’ve heard.

4 Act

Once you’ve reflected on your feedback, it’s time to act. If you feel it’s fair and valid. If you believe in the integrity or authority of the person giving it, then make the changes that are suggested to you. Equally, you can choose not to. We’re all responsible for our own actions.

In summary

Feedback is so important in helping us grow and develop. Give it freely, give it clearly, give it honestly. Equally, ensure you ask for it regularly. When you hear it, receive it honestly and bravely. Most importantly, respond to what you hear. The feedback is there to help you. Ignoring what you hear will leave you stuck in the same place.

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