When you hear the word “feedback” what comes up for you? Do you welcome it or cringe and run for the hills? My guess is most of us are at the latter edge of the spectrum. Why? Because most of us have been the receiver of unhelpful feedback at best or feedback that damaged relationships at worst.
If you’re in a position where you give feedback (and really this should happen at any level of an organization), listen well.
Many of us have taken or at least heard of training courses on “giving and receiving feedback;” it’s become a basic managerial skill for our modern workplaces. But often, we focus on the receiver of feedback rather than the giver.
I’ve heard many times that feedback should be received as a “gift” – and then sometimes I want to throw something at the wall! While that’s *mostly* in jest, the feedback giver is an oft less discussed part of this equation.
Yes, it’s important to separate feedback from who you are as a person. Yes, it’s important to take what is useful (even if it’s 1% of what was said) and have a learning mindset. Yes, it’s important to ensure we aren’t tone policing our colleagues (and our colleagues of color especially) so that feedback can be given if it’s not said 100% “perfectly.”
But, I want to focus on the other side of this equation and move the focus from the receiver and onto the giver.
I’ve been in and have coached clients in more situations than I’d like to count where feedback felt dis-empowering, unsolicited, and relationship-damaging. And I think that so much of that could be avoided. Here are five things to consider next time you’re in the role of the feedback giver:
1. Understand and Acknowledge the Power Dynamics with the Feedback Receiver
Are you in a more senior position or a position of greater influence? If yes, make sure you take care not to abuse your power, name the dynamics, and state your intention for giving the feedback.
2. Set the Context in Order to Right-Size Expectations
No one wants to go into a conversation expecting it to be about one thing when it ends up being entirely about something else – namely you and your performance. Let the feedback receiver know the purpose of the conversation and give them a chance to share their perspective.
3. Make Space for Dialogue
We often think of feedback as a one-way street: “I give and you receive, and then you take action.” But we don’t consider enough that our perception of an issue is only one side of the story. It is crucial to make space for the feedback receiver to share their perspective.
4. Avoid Blame and Instead Take a Genuinely Curious and Open Approach
Blame and shame can be our default modes of operating when we see that someone is not adequately meeting our expectations. But they get us nowhere in building trusting relationships that allow for strong, vulnerable teams.
5. Co-create Next Steps
No one wants to be micromanaged and misunderstood. This only contributes to creating a toxic work environment. Find a solution you can both agree on from a place of mutual understanding of each of your needs and expectations.
At the end of the day, there is a human being with emotions, personal lives, and different social identities behind each feedback conversation. The more we can be human-centered leaders in every interaction, the more we model the leaders we can and want to be.