How to Give, Recieve and Ask for Feedback
by Dr Andrzej Grossman
Feedback is an essential component of a high-performing team and organisation.
However, whether informally, over a coffee following a team meeting, or formally, as part of an annual development review, people lack the confidence and skillset to give, receive and ask for feedback effectively.
Why Is Feedback So Important
Providing and receiving feedback is a core business skill.
It is how you work through and develop new ideas, address challenging or inappropriate behaviour, outline areas for professional development, manage expectations and deliver difficult messages.
While it is an important part of a formal and annual or bi-annual appraisal or performance review, people should be able and empowered to give feedback to peers and managers alike on an on-going basis.
If people are unable to give effective feedback individual and team performance will suffer.
Issues which should have been addressed and resolved early can be left to linger and fester, manifesting in something much more destructive and costly down the line.
Furthermore, people’s opportunities to develop professional and personally are hindered as improved performance is based on assessing, reviewing and communicating around existing capabilities our output.
What’s more, when it comes to building trust, this depends on people being genuine and honest with each other as opposed to blanketly agreeing with ideas or ignoring difficult behaviour.
Why People Struggle with Feedback
Put simply, feedback is a conversation about the impact of someone’s actions and behaviours.
However, many fear the idea and process of giving feedback, formally and informally.
The annual development review is seen not only as an administrative formality and necessary evil but for both the reviewer and reviewee, it can be a source of anxiety and even conflict.
For managers, it is usually the fear of perceived conflict that lies at the heart of reluctance to give meaningful feedback.
For those receiving feedback, it may like judgement day where your manager will pass judgement on you and your performance. Equally, you may have suffered from the effect of the ‘positive-negative-positive’ feedback sandwich which has felt disingenuous and not to be trusted.
The same fears can be found with informal, on-going feedback. The conflict avoidance tendency means people shy away from delivering challenging messages for fear of rocking the boat or causing a scene.
So, for both the giver and receiver, when sensing social threat, our logical brain turns to our survival brain to zoom in on the threat and switch to a fight or flight response.
Even the word “feedback” doesn’t sound very appetising and can have negative connotations and trigger a standoffish reaction.
In a conversation we exchange any combination of facts, perceptions, reactions, feelings, observations, worries, ideas and options.
The conversation may involve giving praise or recognition or it may be a difficult conversation involving the negative impact of someone’s behaviour or something they have done.
Conversations can happen at any time.
Fortunately, reliance on the annual performance review is now less in favour than it once was as managers and employees realise that more regular, informal feedback gives a better picture of how we are working with and maintaining relationships with our colleagues.
This is highlighted by an important, connected point.
When we speak of company culture we speak of it as if we experience it equally and in the same way.
But we are all different and we experience work differently. What motivates us or discourages us, makes us come up with new ideas or go the extra mile doesn’t hinge on company culture but on the team you work with. Dealing with the immediacy of how you work with your team members who are all different is what really matters.
So, what are the essentials making conversations around how we are working together more meaningful?
There are many feedback models but they involve the feedback being balanced, observed, objective, specific and timely. Based on the research of LeeAnn Rennigel, this four-step model can be used for a short conversation or one requiring more time to cover more ground:
1. Ask permission (Don’t ambush) e.g. “Do you have 10 minutes to talk about the meeting we just had?”
2. Make your observation about the person’s behaviour (Don’t use fuzzy words or use labels like supportive, systematic, organised) e.g. “I noticed in the meeting and the one before that when I proposed an idea you said it would never work.”
3. State the impact it had on you (Why this is important) e.g. “I mention this because I now feel reluctant to share my thinking with you.”
4. Question (Check if they see it the same way, joint-problem solve or agree an action plan if necessary) e.g. “How do you see it?”
- Take time to prepare. Think through what you want to cover as well as how and where you are going to say it. For example, make a written or mental checklist, rehearse your opening lines and consider if the conversation should be done in private.
- Be specific about the behaviour. This matters as much to praise as it does when addressing things that need to be done differently. Do not be vague.
- It’s a conversation. Do not do all the talking. Give them space to reflect through the use of silence and other active listening skills.
- Give people time. People need time to process feedback and decide whether to act or not on it. Possibly look to schedule a follow-up conversation once there has been an opportunity to digest the feedback.
- Give feedback early. Be timely with your feedback. If you kick the can down the road and ignore an issue, the effects of it will worsen for all involved. The same is true for praise. Try to give it quickly following the praiseworthy achievement.
One way to start can be with very close colleagues or family/friends. Just practice the process of giving them feedback, even if on something relatively minor just to build your confidence and become comfortable with the process.
It can be hard to receive feedback, especially if it is about an individuals’ behaviour. We naturally enter fight or flight mode, but here are some tips to help you better take on board feedback.
- Don’t immediately defend or justify your behaviour. Give the giver any opportunity to be honest with you and outline in full what they want to say. Jumping in or talking over them will not help you and ultimately you.
- If you do find yourself emotionally triggered, pause, acknowledge and label the emotion in yourself. This will help the logical brain to kick in and help you process what is going on.
- Summarise what you have heard to make you you have understood correctly and demonstrate to the giver you have listened. Also acknowledge the significance it carries.
- Checking your understanding. If the information you are getting is not clear, ask questions. It is important you receive clear and direct feedback.
- If you are a leader or manager, ask for feedback from your team regularly and be a role model for receiving it.
- Say thank you, even if it has been a challenging conversation.
Like with giving feedback, one place to start can be with people you are close to. Linked with the below, ask them to give you feedback on something, even if it is small to familiarise yourself with what it is like to receive input on your behaviour, ideas and so forth.
Asking for Feedback
Part of normalising a health feedback culture is people seeking out feedback from their peers and leaders. Here is how you can best approach asking for feedback.
- Say why you would like the feedback from the person you are asking.
- Ask the questions which you would like to find answers to and how this information will help you
- Particularly if you are a manager, ask for feedback on your feedback. Keep in mind that expecting the feedback giver to be completely honest at first is unlikely. They are measuring your trustworthiness and if their honesty will not come back to bite them.
The more and more people in the team and organisation who actively seek out feedback, the easier it will become for everyone, especially those new to the organisation.
These essentials do not take lots of time to learn.
For those new to giving or receiving feedback, acknowledge that it may feel uncomfortable at first and gradually that feeling will be replaced by confidence.
The important thing is to practice, practice, practice so you eventually get to a point where whenever you give or receive feedback you embrace it as an opportunity to improve yourself and your team.