Some suggestions on how to give feedback like pro and take feedback like a champ.
Feedback is crucial to development
Feedback is like a first date: if you play it right you have a chance to further that relationship, if you mess it up you’ll end up being the frustrating topic of conversation between that person and their loved ones.
Exchange of impressions and opinions is a huge part of how we communicate, so getting the words to work in our favor can greatly improve our relationships to others, and open a lot of doors for personal development.
- Always start with the positive. Even if it’s not obvious at first, it’s impossible that you can’t find something to GENUINELY praise. Be honest and give specific examples. Make it a phrase not just a 3 word sentence like “it’s good, BUT” or ‘I really like it, BUT”.
- Avoid using the dreadful BUT. Don’t think you’re being smart by replacing it with however, nevertheless or other synonyms. It’s not a good idea to use these words because it makes the receiver feel like whatever was said before was either not important or indeed not genuine. It will make them less receptive and more skeptical.
- Offer only constructive feedback. Share points on which the receiver can actually improve. Asking someone to be smarter is like asking them to be taller i.e. nonsensical. You could suggest that they pay more attention to their decision making process, or make adjustments to their work flow for increased effectiveness.
- Don’t judge, explain how it affected you. Instead of blaming the other person illustrate the effect that their actions had on your situation and that together you could find a way avoid such situations in the future. This makes them feel understood rather than attacked, increasing the chances of them actively listening.
- Use concrete examples. Describe the observed behaviour/ performance/ work with specific examples. Avoid generalising and go into details that clarify your points. Of course, pay attention not to bore everyone with too much detail, calibrate accordingly.
- Pause and listen for clarifying questions. Even if you think you were crystal clear there might be additional questions, so listen carefully and explain patiently. Even if you have to repeat some information, be cool ;)
- End on an encouraging note. Give some constructive suggestions for improvement and remember: the more conquerable the problem seems, the faster they will feel like tackling it. So don’t make it seem impossible, throw a good challenge instead.
While going through the next section, observe how implementing the suggestions above can facilitate receiving feedback.
- Say: “thank you!” and mean it. Regardless if the feedback was given masterfully or not, we should thank the other person because they took time to share their thoughts. Best part, we are the ones deciding what to do with their suggestions, and we don’t need to do it on the spot, so why not be thankful?
- Listen quietly and don’t interrupt. Sometimes it’s hard, but please resist that burning urge to defend or justify your actions/ intentions. It’s like quicksands: the more defensive you get, the deeper you sink.
- Ask questions for clarification. If some points raised are not clear to you, ask for more details and specific examples. Do it to better understand the other person’s point of view, not as an excuse to motivate and justify yourself.
- If asked for it, explain your decisions and actions. If you are given the opportunity offer deeper insights into your situation. Don’t defend, explain. It’s possible that the other person is not aware of the whole picture and you should use this chance to illustrate it more clearly for them.
- Whatever you do, don’t argue. It’s impossible to win an argument because even if you are right, the other person is not going to enjoy being wrong and you still lose. If you feel you’ve been wronged and maybe your promotion depends on this, be tactful and patient: allow the other person to feel important (they are anyway), talk about points on which you agree to get the other to say “yes” a few times (this will make them open up and be more willing to see your viewpoint), gently explain your point of view without blaming, generalising or judging, and finally, give them a reputation to live up to (e.g. I’m sure someone with your experience can understand and appreciate the sort of pressure I was facing).
- End with “thank you” and remember the feedback you just received. After you’ve allowed yourself some psychological distance from the feedback session, review the points and decide whether and how to implement them. How cool is this? You get to decide what to implement and when without having to get approval from the feedback giver. Sure, some lessons are harder than others and you might get the same feedback over and over until you learn.
- Show empathy and understanding for the other person.
- Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and genuinely try to see their viewpoint.
- Use proactive language, avoid reactive language.
- Give feedback only if asked for it, otherwise always ask if that person is willing to receive feedback.
- Be genuine: when praising give honest appreciation not flattery, when criticising do it constructively not judgmentally.
Whether you have to give feedback to a co-worker, an employee, a friend or a complete stranger please keep in mind the following: no one likes a bad image of themselves. So, aim to present that image in the best light and others will be more willing to take any suggestions on boards.
Regardless where you get feedback from try to be equanimous between criticism and praise. Use both as a catalyst from improvement, and don’t let either disturb the balance of your self-worth. Confirmation or disapproval from others are tools to assess our position at a given time and place, but at all times we should be aiming towards the best version of ourselves.
More useful resources
Dale Carnegie’s book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” is an invaluable resource. Originally published in 1936, this book is timeless. The title sounds a little bit too self-helpish, but the content is far from it.
Stephen Covey’s book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” is a more comprehensive practical guide on how to achieve effectiveness with people and efficiency with things.
Did you find these suggestions fair? What methods do you use to handle or give feedback?