Feedback. There’s a word. All too often it’s synonymous with “criticism” for a lot of us. You know – if things are going well, no news is good news, but woe betide if things go wrong – then we get it with both barrels.
But times have changed, and so have people. Are you a manager of Gen Y colleagues, for example? You’ll notice that having grown up in a culture of continuous assessment and feedback, they will want, and welcome, feedback. And for them feedback means both “Here’s what’s good – please do more of that” and “This wasn’t quite right – let’s understand why and identify what to do differently next time around”.
But what if, like me, you’re Gen Z and feedback isn’t something that you’ve had a lot of (although in my line of work that’s not an issue; we get feedback all the time), or you don’t know how to/don’t want to give it? Then it can be a tougher proposition. All is not lost however. It’s a simple case of thinking about:
- Who do I need to give feedback to, and why?
- What does the feedback need to achieve (a change in behaviour; approach or attitude? Or maintaining any/all of those)?
- When and where are the best times and places to deliver that feedback?
- How do I want to deliver it (definitely calmly; respectfully and in a detailed way)?
- What examples do I have about what’s happened (so that I can talk about what I have seen and heard)?
- The effect that person’s behaviour has had for me; our colleagues; our clients – and themselves, and how to articulate that
- What I’d like to be the same (or different) in the future
- Giving the other person time and space to reflect and respond, and finally…..
- What is my underlying intention? Is it genuinely to effect a positive change and to help them, or is it because I’m upset about something and want to share the pain with them?
So far so good. But, irrespective of people’s age and seniority, the issues below, amongst others, come up again and again as to why they don’t (want to) give feedback:
- Embarrassment about how to do it
- A hope that someone else will do it
- Because culturally it’s not the done thing (either to praise or give challenging feedback)
- It takes to much time/effort
- Fear of their colleagues’ responses (tears; tantrums; denial; huffiness; superficial agreement but no change)
The last one is often the biggie. The only person’s behaviour we can ever control (and even then it can be a stretch!) is our own. We can plan and practise before delivering feedback but we never truly know how the other person will respond.
And you know what, managers? People are occasionally going to be upset, resentful, angry, hacked off, murderous etc. That’s fine. Let them have their emotions (as long as they express them calmly as opposed to acting on them, especially the murderous urges). Even if you’re delivering other people’s feedback you’ll still often be the focal point for the recipients’ upset. It’s cool. Of course, bad behaviour is not, but you’re going to have to get used to the idea that others’ emotions will take time to percolate through their systems. Some people might need to go home, reflect, and explore in detail the following day. Others want to talk it through there and then.
Being a manager is tough, and delivering challenging feedback can dent your resilience – especially for those of you who are very relationship-focused, and don’t want that relationship to suffer. But we have a “contract” at work around our professionalism, on both sides of the equation. Don’t bother telling people that “This is going to be hard for me”, because they don’t care. Instead focus on them, and on remembering that they need time to digest challenging feedback and get back to normality.
Receiving feedback, again irrespective of age and seniority, can be just as tough and require a lot of resilience. Some tips for receiving it:
- Say thank you (even if it’s been hard to hear, it could be just as hard to deliver)
- Ask for time to reflect or allow yourself to ask for examples there and then
- Be sure that you know what needs to change
- Stay calm. If you feel yourself getting het up it’s time to call proceedings to a halt
- Remember that you don’t have to agree, but you do need to understand
- And following on from the point above, you may not agree, but your behavioural change is the only thing that changes others’ minds. So it’s a choice – but one that has consequences if you decide not to change
- Difficult to hear feedback does not necessarily mean that people don’t see you as a nice person/dislike you etc. It’s about behaviour, not personality (or at least, it should be)
There’s no getting away from it. It’s hard. But mental resilience gets better by practising it. All growth takes place outside the comfort zone, as they say. And what better way to get out of yours than by giving and receiving some feedback. Why don’t you ask for some today?
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about the author
Nicky Denegri is our Senior Consultant and is an expert on feedback. If you would like to know more about this subject, drop her an email and we will be in touch.