Feedback is a gift
You know the phrase and giving usually feels good doesn’t it? Yet the idea of giving feedback fills most people with dread and as a result our gift is not always gratefully received. Giving feedback is a skill which we can all learn but it is anchored in 3 key principles:
Before you give the feedback you need to get absolute clarity on your purpose for giving the feedback and the impact or outcome you want to achieve. It is easy to fall into the trap of identifying an issue with a behaviour, a process, a piece of work, without thinking about the outcome, which then feels like criticism. Criticism causes us stress, and the result is cortisol rushing through our bodies and activating our fight/flight/freeze/appease response. In this space our ability to be open, creative trusting and strategic is simply switched off.
Now I make the presumption that you are giving the feedback because you want to see a change in some way. The gift in the feedback is the change, insight or learning the recipient can gain. This can only be achieved in a space of trust and open conversation.
The normal pattern of feedback is tell, yell or sell. You tell the recipient what you have seen, observed or experienced and then wait for their response. In fact, 2 common approaches are generally used which then lead to negative conversations. One approach is to get this horrible experience over and done with as quickly as possible and so we launch into telling, without creating a safe, trusting environment and in turn create a stress environment. The other approach is to avoid stress altogether and be overly welcoming and skirt over the issues so the outcome is a nice chat rather than a meaningful conversation with purpose.
Approaching your conversation as an opportunity for you both to learn, understand and listen is critical to success. You need to create that space.
Listen to hear, not to respond. Listen to appreciate, discover and expand, rather than to be closed to your own perspective, judge, and limit their options. Ask open questions and give them space to reflect, inquire and respond. You can co-create solutions together and form a solution or change that maybe you weren’t expecting.
To change your relationship with feedback you must practice self management. If a member of staff always retreats, or gets defensive or blames, then identify what words, body language or approach you are leading with. If you enter a feedback conversation with reluctance and apprehension, then the recipient will mirror this and you may as well give up there and then. Perhaps you can start the conversation with being honest about your feelings, so they can trust you and check in with how they are feeling.
Just as stress, anxiety and conflict are contagious, so too are openness, connection, sharing and trust.
When in conversation, self manage the way you respond and focus on listening. Notice when you are forming judgements or making assumptions and stop yourself, then seek to understand.
Feedback is simply a conversation with another human being.
How that conversation goes depends largely on your purpose, your conversational skills and your self management.