Who loves feedback?
There is a bit of a myth going on about feedback – that everyone likes it, craves it and will do something about any critical feedback they receive. Organisations bombard us with texts and emails saying, “your feedback is important to us” and insisting we fill in a survey. Ask yourself this – have you ever seen an organisation make a change on the basis of feedback you have given? No, nor have I.
And at work too. The idea that we are all queuing up, ready to hear the wise words of a colleague who explains how we could have done just a little bit better.
So, what can be done about this……
What’s wrong with feedback?
In principle, there is nothing wrong with offering a colleague or team member a view on how well or less well they did a task. The reason that many people are resistant to hearing feedback is that most of us have heard feedback being delivered badly, at some point. Ask yourself the question – has someone offered some feedback to you that was not well explained, not clear, too strong or generally unhelpful? If so, then you’re with the rest of us.
The feedback sandwich has gone stale and is starting to curl at the edges. There is a good deal of brain scan research (Moser, 2011), that shows that we focus more on the areas that we are drawn to. So, with the famous feedback sandwich, some people will be drawn to the positive feedback, and will ignore the criticism. And others will do the opposite. Either way, it doesn’t work .
The “if I were you” approach also meets with resistance, frequently. When someone says “If I were you, I would….”, what they actually mean is “if you were me…..” Sometimes other people absolutely have the answer for us. But often it is the imposition of someone else’s style, approach and values, that may not be right for us.
And burying bad news amongst kind words may not work either. Some years ago, I wrote an email to someone, with something I was strongly objecting to. I wanted to keep things civilised, so I also added in some kind and friendly comments. Result – my objection wasn’t heard, nor acted on. I showed the email to colleagues – and their feedback to me was that my objections simply faded into the overall email.
The false open question
This is one that we see a lot in debriefs after someone has watched an activity – perhaps a lesson taught, a speech given, a meeting chaired. The observer has their notes, their view and is keen to share it. But for the sake of politeness, they ask this apparently open question: “So, how do you think it went?”
At first glance, there’s nothing wrong with that question. But what happens to the other person? They are now in a dilemma. Do they only mention the positive bits, and hope that the bits they were less pleased about weren’t noticed by their colleague. Or do they look to show their self-awareness about the things that didn’t go so well, and mention them up front? It’s certainly a dilemma.
So how can this be improved?
In a word, transparency. Explain what is going to happen. Don’t try to soften the feedback like I did with my email. Or do the sandwich and risk your colleague picking up the wrong thing.
My feedback explanation tends to explain both the process and what each of us will do. I say something like.
“Let’s hear your thoughts about what you were happy with. And any thoughts about what you are less happy with. After that, I’ll share a couple of thoughts of my own, and we can talk about any next steps. Tea?”
I think that’s all that is needed, both in terms of the explanation, and the process itself. It diffuses any tension, helps our colleague see that their voice is valued, and that we will be sharing a thought or to, but not until later.
Coaches will recognise that there is a coaching element to this. We are holding back our view, asking good questions, hearing from our colleague as to how they see things. That’s all good coaching. Offering our bit of input isn’t coaching, but it is probably the right thing if we have something neat and succinct to offer.
My friend and public speaking colleague Dave Goodman says “feedback is the breakfast of champions”. Bit cheesy, but that’s Dave for you. He is right, and in our public speaking club feedback is built into the process. Public feedback, well and professionally delivered. No one resists, complains or ignores it. What has happened is that feedback has been normalised, and been turned into information. That’s the approach to take.
Happy managing and coaching.
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