Giving and Receiving Effective Feedback
“No matter how good you think you are as a leader, my goodness, the people around you will have all kinds of ideas for how you can get better. So for me, the most fundamental thing about leadership is to have the humility to continue to get feedback and to try to get better – because your job is to try to help everybody else get better.” – Dr. Jim Yong Kim, former head of the World Bank
When was the last time you had a candid and compassionate conversation with another person? ...recently, I hope?
In that conversation, did you exchange information about issues that matter to one or both of you? Did you emerge feeling more connected to the other person’s side of the issue, and more committed to creating a solution?
If so, you engaged in a feedback-oriented conversation — and likely without the feelings of anxiety and fear that are often associated with naming a conversation about “feedback.”
We know that providing others feedback to improve their performance is helpful for their motivation, engagement, and growth. Yet, why is it so difficult for many of us to muster the courage to engage in feedback-oriented conversations?
Perhaps we’ve been hurt by prior conversations that haven’t gone well. Perhaps we feel like feedback conversations are a waste of time —nothing ever changes from having them, and we can only harm relationships in the meantime. Or perhaps we feel like we have a tough message to deliver and we don’t want to be misunderstood.
Whatever the reason, it’s sometimes easier for us to figure out how to make it by in our work or personal lives without having real conversations with those around us. In personal settings, we grin and bear it (whatever it might be). In professional settings, we figure out how to compensate for work that’s not being delivered ‘right’ or in the manner we hoped. Maybe we know the simple solution to a problem we’re facing and we know it will improve our team or organization, but we don’t want to offend the other person this affects – so we let them continue with the status quo. In both settings, our resentment may be quietly building to unproductive and unhealthy volumes.
So let’s return to this need for feedback.
As people, we need to be more skilled and willing to engage in real conversations with those around us. I had the pleasure of hosting a webinar last week with two skilled professionals on the topic: Dr. Megan LePere-Schloop, professor in Ohio State’s John Glenn College of Public Affairs, and Kwame Christian, Esq., director of the American Negotiation Institute, and attorney at Carlile Patchen and Murphy. Throughout the conversation, we returned to a handful of best practices for having feedback-oriented conversations — whether in personal or professional settings.
Best practice #1: Don’t label your conversation “feedback”
Avoid the fight, flight or freeze response in yourself and others. Don’t trigger your innate reactions to situations where you feel unsafe by using the word “feedback.” Instead, reframe the encounter you’re having as a conversation. You’re there to exchange ideas, learn more about another person’s view and share your own insights. Call it a number of things, but for yourself and for the other person, don’t label it “feedback.”
Best practice #2: Seek first to listen without the pressure of responding
Whether or not you’re the person there to share observations, seek to understand the other person’s perspective. Use clarifying questions to ensure you understand the facts they’re sharing so you have a full picture of what they see.
And sometimes, you don’t even need to offer a response. You might say, “Thank you for sharing your observations. This is a lot to think about. If you’re okay, I’ll consider this and get back with you to discuss my thoughts.” If you’re a person who gets heated and wants to defend your ideas, taking the approach outlined above may really benefit your time to process and thoughtfully consider what the other person has to say.
Best practice #3: Practice humility
Of all the positions to adopt in a feedback conversation, speaking with humility is paramount for success. If you’re delivering feedback, practicing humility is critical to ensuring that the conversation doesn’t spiral into a heated battle about how the other person is wrong. If you’re receiving feedback, practicing humility looks like listening with compassion — seeking to acknowledge and validate the emotions the other person is presenting until you have gotten to the core of the issue.
When you acknowledge and validate, you don’t necessarily have to agree with what they’re saying. Instead, you’re allowing them to process aloud with you, be heard and move on in the conversation.
Best practice #4: Rely on concrete observations and start with strengths
Studies have shown that structuring conversations to focus on the good that a person contributes and then asking them how they might use those strengths to continue to improve their results reframes conversations about fixing weaknesses to more empowering discussions on continued growth and improvement.
So what does that mean in real terms? When you’re delivering feedback, start by acknowledging something concrete and real that the person has done well. (Be genuine in this conversation, too!) Ask how they feel they’re using their other strengths in their job, work, setting. Then, ask how they might leverage those strengths to continue to improve their performance. It might feel like a bit of a risk, but making this a two-way conversation allows you both to take ownership in meaningful ways.
Best practice #5: Focus on long-game
You don’t need to say everything at one time. As Kwame Christian notes, breaking feedback up into smaller and more strategic conversations can allow appropriate time for yourself or others to digest the information. You also avoid the temptation of trying to say everything at once — confusing your message or intention.
Next time you catch yourself growing anxious or fearful at the prospect of giving or receiving feedback, start by reframing it as a conversation to generate new insights. And for the leaders and managers reading this piece, remember — performance feedback should also follow these best practices. Although you might be tempted to simply manage the weaknesses of your team members, reframing your approach to a conversation might allow you to learn more about their work experience and even more opportunities for you to support them than you imagined!
Aguinis, H., Gottfredson, R. K., & Joo, H. (2012). Delivering effective performance feedback: The strengths-based approach. Business Horizons, 55(2), 105–111. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bushor.2011.10.004
Christian, Kwame, “Finding Confidence in Conflict,” TEDxDayton: https://www.ted.com/talks/kwame_christian_finding_confidence_in_conflict?utm_campaign=tedspread&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=tedcomshare
Christian, Kwame, “Finding Confidence in Conflict: How to Negotiate Anything and Live your Best Life”: https://www.amazon.com/Finding-Confidence-Conflict-Negotiate-Anything-dp-0578413736/dp/0578413736/ref=dp_ob_title_bk
Patterson, Kerry. Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2012.
The American Negotiation Institute’s Negotiate Anything podcast: https://americannegotiationinstitute.com/negotiate-anything-podcast/
Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.