Feedback is so important and good for us. Why are we generally so awkward about giving and receiving feedback? I speak from experience when I say it is tough to both give and receive feedback. And of course the positive information is pretty easy to convey and to accept, it is the so-called “constructive criticism” that is difficult to deliver and, frankly, to take in. After the years in both staff and management roles, I have developed a few tips on how to make a delivery easier. Ultimately, I want my team to take the feedback in and learn and grow from it. If I can’t deliver it in a way they will reciprocate to it, then I won’t get the desired outcome in the end. So effective delivery is critical.
Giving feedback. Some managers are huge proponents of the “compliment sandwich”: begin with something positive, deliver the critique in the middle, end with something positive. This is really a pretty good approach, but the flaw of the compliment sandwich is that people are aware of it being a compliment sandwich. I know what’s coming in the middle – criticism, so I really won’t pay attention to anything said before or after but will zone in on the criticism part and either be offended, or upset with myself at the least for doing something wrong.
I just recently read several articles on social media covering that our society is not taught to embrace failure and to accept it and learn from it. We are taught since the young age that you either win or lose and no one like losers. So what do we strive for? Win, win, win. And when we lose or miss the mark on some criteria we are measured against, we are devastated and hurt and beat ourselves up and do everything possible to avoid feeling the embarrassment and anguish of failure again. So that’s why giving some corrective feedback is hard because by default we associate it with failure. Even if we say we embrace it and seek feedback, we tend to subconsciously relive the criticism over and over in our head thinking of ways to justify it or explain it away, it eats at us.
So how to give feedback better without creating this mental cycle of torment for our team members and peers? Ha! It depends… Here is why. Thou shalt know thou team members. In my earlier posts on managing teams older and younger than me, I said over and over that getting to know the team is critical. Well this is another reason to get to know the people who work along side of you. What type of feedback do they reciprocate to? I tend to do one of the two things: be blunt or be sweet. Some people reciprocate to blunt better. Just tell them what you need to tell them. Get to the chase and be done with it. Reassure them that you two are still on good terms and are ready to move forward, but don’t rehash the criticism over and over unless the behavior happens again. Those types of people tend to just take the information in and address it on the spot and going forward, they don’t like too much fluff.
The other group of people prefer being told: ” here is what you are doing great and this is what you can do better next time….” It’s almost like a compliment sandwich without the last compliment. They don’t want to be bashed or chastised, they just want to be told how to improve but in a really nice way. Being spoken to in a blunt manner hurts them on a personal level and even offends them. It is important to remain sensitive to that. Being nice pays off.
And of course there is a group of complicated folks who are somewhere in between, they want to be told what to improve upon without the warming up compliment, but in a nice enough manner to where it is not derogatory or destructive to their persona in any way. Again, know your team and know what they respond to. And if you don’t know and can’t figure it out on your own, ask. People appreciate a candid conversation where you are showing them the courtesy of learning about their communication style.
Receiving feedback. Keep an open mind. Generally feedback is meant to help us improve and grow. We may not like it. We may be embarrassed about it, but it is generally not meant to hurt us. What to do if you are getting grilled for seemingly no reason at all for something unfair. Well first of all, take a few deep breaths and make sure to remain calm. Taking a high road and be a bigger person. Even if person delivering feedback is completely off the mark, feeding into it and getting upset of angry in front of them will only support their claim even if only in their mind. You want to be the bigger person and be more emotionally intelligent. It may not do much for that particular conversation, but it will serve you well down the line. Because you won’t have to be the one embarrassed about your reaction, let that be the other person’s regret.
Also consider your source. Yes, it may be your manager or boss. Yes, they may have a high position in the organization. But are they truly a credible source of feedback? Do they have your best interest at heart or are they merely checking the box for annual performance review? Do they see you work or are they going off of someone else’s word about your performance? Is it someone who doesn’t like you personally and is trying to get rid of you? Is it someone known for lack of tact and poor communication skills? You may not have these answers outright, but giving your source some thought is important. You don’t have to challenge the person’s intentions on the spot, and most likely in the work setting it is best not to do it because it can be considered as insubordination or aggression on your part. But take a mental note to think about later on your own time. Take feedback from people who have your best interest at heart seriously. Don’t let the feedback from a non-credible source get under your skin and detour you from your goals. And don’t take it personal, or at least try not to. One of my mentors and close friends always says that people’s reaction is driven by 95/5 rule: 95% of the reaction or demeanor is about them and their internal emotions, issues, fears, concerns, and overall state of mind and only about 5% is about you.
Let’s sum it up. Feedback is awesome and it helps us grow and learn and get to know ourselves better through the eyes of other people. Giving feedback should depend on the person you’re giving it to. You will only be as successful at getting through to them as you are successful at identifying their preferred method of delivery. Receiving feedback can be tough, but remember to stay cool, calm and collected in the process. Reflect on how much of the feedback was about you and how much was about the person who was giving feedback. Consider your source and focus on the content not the delivery, cherish feedback from people who care about you and value you and don’t let people who don’t have your best interest at heart get under your skin.