I’m a strong believer in feedback, if used correctly it’s a tool to facilitate a clear and open conversation between one another. Feedback can strengthen relationships as well as provide personal development opportunities by gaining insights on behaviours you never were aware of. But it’s not a walk in the park. For some people, it’s hard to let your guard down and listen to what people actually think about you, as well as your work. What might be intended as developing criticism could be interpreted as a judgemental comment.
Over the last two years I have interviewed 50+ people on the subject of feedback, an Instagram series I call Feedback Coffee. The format is simple, I ask the following questions:
1, Why is feedback important?
2, What’s your greatest insight from feedback you’ve gotten?
3, What’s a great feedback you’ve given to someone else?
4, What’s your feedback to me?
I’ve interviewed everything from UX Designers to Backend Developers and people still getting their education, engaging a wide spectrum of people and learning about their unique experiences with feedback has resulted in many diverse learnings and insights. Below are the top words people used to answer these questions.
I will do my best to walk you through these learnings and insights, as well as finally answering these four questions myself, as a facilitator and as a team member. My desired outcome is that you will have learnt something new after reading this article!
1. Why is feedback important? 👍
Let’s start etymologically. The word feedback has its origin in the 1910s and is based on two words. Feed — to provide with the necessary materials for development, maintenance, or operation. Back — to support, as with authority, influence, or help. In other words:
Feedback is an opportunity to voice a need for development based of a past common experience
Giving feedback is a subjective matter. It’s based on your own, personal needs for the recipient of feedback to change or encourage a certain behaviour. The Hand, as shown below, is a great tool to have in the back of your mind as you give feedback, pointing a finger at someone or something means that there are always three fingers pointing back to yourself. Those are your needs.
In my experience giving feedback can become either too positive, or too critical. But the best feedback sessions are the ones based on constructive reflections with the shared aim to grow and develop the team for the future. I once facilitated a two-hour session with a team of seven participants, after they had reflected upon past actions we did the feedback exercise Fly on the Wall; everyone sat in the circle facing inwards, and the person starting receiving feedback turned around, face out from the circle, and for the next five minutes everyone talks about this person. Here I also used the exercise Stop, Start, Continue; the ones giving the feedback states behaviours that they wanted this person to stop doing, start doing and continue doing. It was clearly noticeable that the team had prior experience in feedback as they had no problem voicing their individual needs with the aim to grow the team, the result of the session was that all participants both gave and received constructive and developing feedback.
Giving feedback to someone is voicing a personally motivated request for the other person to change. This concludes that feedback should always be based on personal reflections. This in order to understand your own needs and frustrations before putting blame on someone else. If the desired outcome of the feedback is for a coworker to develop, rather than change a certain behaviour, the feedback is still rooted in your own needs.
2. What is the greatest feedback I’ve gotten? 🙏
Generally speaking, the feedback I receive most frequently, is that I bring good energy to the team and that I am a good listener. But if the person giving me feedback is comfortable around me, and feels empowered and capable of being honest with me; they point out my constant need for structure which, by some, can be perceived as a lack of trust. The first couple of times I received this feedback I remember I was defending my actions. I began to explain why I act this way and in ways try to justify it. But as I have continued to receive this feedback over and over again, I understand it and I’m now at a stage where I’m exploring ways to change this behaviour based on past reflections.
Which brings me to the Feedback Staircase, a tool for understanding how people receive feedback. The first step is to Discard the feedback you’re given being totally unarguable to it. The second step is to Defend your case, try to fence off whatever criticism is directed your way. The third step is to go into the Explanatory stage, you share your personal reasons or justifications for your way of behaving. The fourth step is Understanding the feedback given to you. And the final step is Change, accepting the feedback you’ve been given and embarking on the journey of change and self-improvement. Keep in mind that people might react differently depending on the situation people might jump up and down the different steps on the Feedback Staircase.
I once facilitated a team of four people. The general vibe of the team was good, but they had been facing trust issues for some time, mainly directed at the leadership being sometimes slow to action, indecisive and at moments lacking slightly in confidence. Since the team had recently introduced a new member, communication problems with other teams within the organisation had arisen. These factors lead to a lot of frustration within an otherwise happy functional team of people. As I facilitated a full day workshop with this team, they reflected on past experiences and behaviours, and while doing so, I quickly realised that the team needed to clarify their roles, specifically iron out the responsibilities of the Team Lead. They all had different expectations and perceptions on what is to be expected of a Team Lead. So I asked them to define the specific tasks of this role which opened up for a discussion, a very honest discussion.
As all members took the opportunity to voice their needs I started to notice the patterns of reaction. The Team Lead was reacting quite defensively. Looking at the Feedback Staircase, the Team Lead almost always got stuck on the Explain step. Stuck in limbo, between wanting to understand the team and justifying, or explaining their own actions.
“The ability to listen to feedback is a sign of resilience, and some of those who do it best gained that strength in the hardest way possible” — Sheryl Sandberg
But never be blind to feedback! Rules are meant to be broken. Not every piece of feedback that you receive will be beneficial. Sometimes feedback comes from a good, but naive place. Perhaps the person sharing their feedback and their desire for you to change is the person I need of said change! I advise keeping your own views and beliefs dialled in, then collecting multiple perspectives on your received feedback in order to fully understand it, instead of directly giving in to change that may or may not be constructive.
3. What is a great feedback I’ve given? 👐
A couple years back, I was working in a small team of five people. All of us wanted to explore and learn as much as possible during the short project we were assigned, the base of which mainly consisted of UX Design and IOS Development. We decided that I should take on the responsibilities of Tech Lead. At first, there were no problems and we were very productive and efficient, but as we got closer to the deadline one of the teammates grew weary, started complaining and demanded a say in every tiniest detail of the project. It resulted in trust issues between the two of us, and eventually the rest of the team. It was a constant source of frustration which eventually escalated into a conflict.
As we sat down to solve this, I had a hard time giving this particular person clear feedback. So our facilitator for the session asked me to go back to a tool we had been introduced to in a previous project, the I-Message tool, as seen below. It is a tool used for giving clear, constructive feedback.
This is the I-Message split into four steps: Start with an objective observation of the situation, be as factual as possible. Describe your feeling from this experience. Based on this you state your need from the recipient of this feedback. And finally your wish for the future, detailing how you would like to be able to work with this person going forward your utopia.
Using this tool to give this person feedback helped me communicate my wish for this person to act differently. This is when I truly understood the value of giving clear and constructive feedback for the first time. Not only did it help me to understand my own needs, and how to communicate them to this person, but this experience helped us develop more trust and grow together, as a team.
“Groups need accurate and frequent feedback about their performance so they can learn to help themselves. Without feedback, it very difficult for groups to judge their progress and make corrections to get back to track. Research tells us that groups that get feedback regularly are more successful” — Susan Wheelan
4. What’s your feedback to me? 🤔
Since I’m interviewing myself in this article, I have decided to share one of the answers I got for this question:
”I think you are a very inspirational strong woman. You’re not scared, or probably you are, but I feel you inspire me to take risks and do things your way. You’re a courageous person. I also feel like you protect your inner child, you have this mix of ’rackarunge’ meets problem solver. My need is for you to come here more often to facilitate workshops :)” — Helga Osk Hlynsdottir, Spiritual Leader of Serious Business, Munich [read the full interview here]
In conclusion, feedback is an art form, and with the right mindset, anyone can master it. Implementing the habit of giving feedback is a necessity if you want to create a team culture that fosters trust and enables growth. Both giving and receiving feedback is an intimate and very personal experience. It’s invasive, it can often feel like an attack on your person, on your personal traits. In a way it is, you should take it personally, but keep in mind that feedback is an opportunity to voice a need for development and improvement. Just as much as it can be harsh and critical, it is also coming from a place of warmth, with the sole purpose of making you and your team better.
Action plan for good feedback sessions ️️💯
- Create an equal space for all participants.
- Reflect on past experiences before sharing feedback.
- Understand that you and your team are on a learning curve.
- Engage with the ‘error’, learn by failing.
- Use the feedback session as an opportunity to give your team a boost of energy.
“Specific comments are more useful than general ones” — Dale Hunter
So, do you feel inspired? Is feedback something you would like to implement in your workplace? Then reach out as I’m your woman! Finally, I sincerely hope you found this article interesting and helpful. Maybe you’ve got some feedback for me? I’ll gladly listen here’s how to find me:
Email — email@example.com
Messenger — @nextdayinnovations
Big hugs 🤗