Can I Give You Some Feedback?

The single best thing anyone has told me (thus far) about feedback is this: if you have constructive feedback for someone, if you know a way they could do better, it is a disservice to withhold that information. (Assuming, of course, you are acting as a manager or a respected peer or a good friend, and speaking in the proper context with respect.) Having this perspective has helped me, as a manager, to get over my reluctance to share awkward feedback. I remind myself that it is (quite literally) my job and also a service.

That best thing led to the next best thing I know about feedback: feedback should be received as a gift. If someone is sharing with you how to do something better, or sharing a different perspective from which to see yourself, that’s a gift. It may not be a great gift, it may, in fact, be the feedback equivalent of an itchy awful holiday sweater, but it is still a gift. Say “Thank you” and then evaluate what you’ll do with the information — file it away, use it for immediate change, or just let it go.

After those perspective shifts, getting to where I am now (which is OK, but imperfect, and both giving and receiving feedback) and continuing to improve, is a matter of practice.

Practice good employee feedback structure:

  • feedback should be frequent, and as close to immediate as reasonable
  • feedback should be mostly positive
  • feedback should be a part of an ongoing conversation and trusted relationship (built through good communication, one-on-ones, etc.)
  • check to see if it’s a good time before barging ahead (“Can I give you some feedback?”)
  • state observations — what you saw
  • asked questions — what did your employee think, plan, expereince? how did the situation happen?
  • then the impact of what you saw
  • then what you’d like to see
  • offer support and follow-through

Practice difficult feedback in the mirror (or with a friend) if it helps.

And for the harder, more personal side:

Practice soliciting feedback. Asking.

Practice listening.

Practice taking a breath before evaluating if (and how) I choose to change.

Practice being willing to change.

Practice saying “Thank you.”

Keep practicing.

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This piece was inspired by the Support Driven Writing Challenge — third topic, Feedback. Support Driven is chock-full of geeks and people-lovers who help each other stay sane and do our best work. Thanks, all.