Feedback is one of those things that is talked about a lot in organisations but is rarely done well. Sometimes, if you can believe it, it’s not done at all! No feedback at all is so much worse than “negative” feedback because without any feedback you don’t know if you’re hitting the mark or not. I put “negative” in double quotes because I believe feedback is just feedback…there’s no such thing as negative feedback, there’s only the meaning you put on it. All feedback is useful and there are certain things you need to be mindful of when accepting feedback because if it’s difficult to take, it might be because of one of these reasons.
Firstly, the feedback is too close to the truth and hearing it is painful.
Secondly, your relationship with the person giving you feedback might not be the best and this might be colouring what could be perfectly valid feedback delivered with the intention of improving your performance. However, because it has been delivered by that particular person the message carries a particularly negative taint.
No matter how good you think you are as a leader, my goodness, the people around you will have all kinds of ideas for how you can get better. So for me, the most fundamental thing about leadership is to have the humility to continue to get feedback and to try to get better – because your job is to try to help everybody else get better. ~ Jim Yong Kim
Lastly, the feedback directly conflicts with your identity; i.e., who you think you are as a person. This last one can be particularly difficult to take.
I was once tasked with giving feedback to a person who dominated conversations, whether it was one on one or in a meeting environment. It was very difficult to get a word in and meetings inevitably always ran over. The problem was that the person was the most amazing, gentle and kind person who would do anything for anybody…and she identified herself as an excellent communicator. This was an obvious blind-spot; everyone could see this, but unfortunately she was completely unaware. One of her endearing qualities was she was super sensitive to the feelings of others but was also quite a sensitive person herself. This was feedback that she needed to hear but no-one had ever given it to her for fear of hurting her feelings. I’m a big believer that withholding considered and carefully crafted feedback from someone is doing them a disservice because what tends to happen is people begin to work around the person, and, depending on what the issue is, work around them.
There are always two things I focus on when giving developmental feedback: maintaining (or even enhancing) the relationship, and delivering the message (gently but clearly). With these two things in mind, I craft my message and always invite the other person into a conversation. This is essential because, no matter how thinly you slice it, there are always two sides to a story.
I think it’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better. ~ Elon Musk
But is it necessary to take on all forms of feedback? Largely, it depends. If someone gives me feedback that identifies that I talk too much and that I should listen more, I might ignore it believing myself to be a particularly good listener. If someone else also gives me similar feedback I could continue to ignore it, rationalising it’s their perception or only a one off (as human beings we are particularly good at rationalising things, especially when it doesn’t align with our identity). However, if a third person gives me similar feedback then maybe I should start to pay attention and develop a strategy to change things. In this case, it might be to listen more and listen better.
Feedback is just a tool and is one hundred percent necessary for us to grow and develop as a leader and even as a person. It is the number one tool for developing awareness which is essential for growth.
Giving feedback can be particularly challenging especially when you have to deliver feedback to one of your team and that feedback has been received second hand? This is where it becomes essential to leave room for the other person to express their view and if they absolutely disagree or have a different interpretation of events I approach it from a direction of the need to address the ‘perception’ of the behaviour. This is often so much easier for the other person to accept because we’ve allowed them to have a voice and we’re not disagreeing with them; in fact, we can frame it in such a way that together we’re finding a way deal with the perception of the issue. The end result will be the same. Either they address the perception (by changing their behaviour) or they don’t. If they don’t then another conversation with a greater body of evidence can be had.
If you’d like to know more about how to improve your ability to give feedback, build on the feedback you are receiving, or if you’d like to explore how coaching can help you become a better leader (of others or yourself!), or even if you’re just generally curious about what professional coaching can offer you, please contact us at any time for a free consultation.
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