Giving feedback has such negative connotations for so many people.
Most of us are quite nice, so we don’t want to hurt other people's feelings.
It’s hard to tell someone they don’t do something very well. It’s also hard to hear that you don’t do something well.
However, it’s all about how you frame it.
It needn’t be and isn’t in any way negative. It’s wholly positive.
By offering honest, constructive feedback you are offering an opportunity to grow, whatever the context.
We all have blind spots. It’s our duty as caring colleagues to bring them to light, and be open to discovering our own.
This transparent dialogue works best if it’s constant and happens daily in a natural, fluid way. It’s not enough for it to be left to the formal/rigid feedback sessions if the culture isn’t already open and transparent.
Hearing a barrage of feedback all at once is a challenge for anyone, as it’s hard to remain objective. So why store it up?
Put simply: no feedback; no growth, and this goes for teams and for individuals. Now, that’s negative.
Avoiding blind spots
In the 1950s, US psychologists Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham developed a model called the ‘Johari window'. It’s used to develop better self-awareness by understanding what you know about yourself and what’s known by others.
Applying Johari’s window to a team or relationship where feedback flourishes, there are fewer blind spots as you’re open to feedback from that individual.
You have fewer hidden or 'façade' areas as you’re comfortable with disclosing things.
The more about yourselves that you have in the open/free area, the stronger the relationships, and the more potential there is for growth.
The argument that you’re protecting that person’s feelings by withholding feedback doesn’t really wash.
Here’s a simple analogy.
Someone comes out of the toilet with toilet roll stuck to their foot. You might not want to bring it up for fear of embarrassing them.
But by saying nothing, you risk many more people seeing it. That’s far more embarrassing for the person in question. You could have had a simple, quiet word with them and spared them their blushes.
Kim Scott calls this “ruinous empathy” in her brilliant book Radical Candor. It will turn your perception of giving feedback on its head, and persuade you that giving feedback is actually kind.
If we pick apart the reluctance to give feedback even further, are we really protecting the other person? Or are we protecting ourselves?
Often our reluctance comes from a fear that the person will like us less if we bring up something they do badly. Or perhaps it’s because of our own discomfort in delivering that feedback.
Yet it’s not about you. It’s about them.
People will like you a lot more in the long-run if you're honest enough to help them grow. Even if there is that initial sting involved.
See it. Say it. Be specific
Steve Jobs’ management style may not have been everyon’s cup of tea, but here he makes an excellent point about giving feedback:
“The most important thing I think you can do for somebody who’s really good and who’s really being counted on is to point out to them when they’re not - when they’re work isn’t good enough. And to do it very clearly and to articulate why…and to get them back on track.”
When put so simply, wouldn’t we all want this? What's important is that the feedback is direct, specific and given with the intention to help the person improve.
In some cases, as frustration grows to a crescendo, feedback can be given far too late and delivered in the wrong spirit. Or it may be that feedback is delivered as a personal attack rather than as an objective appraisal of behaviour or work.
As emotions run high, that person may react and deliver some very 'personal' feedback of their own, which in turn becomes an exercise in point-scoring.
It’s the reason why actors never give feedback.
In my acting career, it was every director’s golden rule, because the spirit in which it was delivered was wrong.
Big yet brittle egos, the desire for limelight, an inability to receive notes as anything other than a personal attack. These all meant that feedback was fraught with emotional risk.
It was never about enhancing the other person’s performance or for the good of the production. So it was that only the directors could give feedback.
This is a shame, as the right spirit of open, well-intentioned dialogue is a huge potential resource.
Don’t take your lead from actors. Remove the emotion from it, as continuous, constructive feedback makes us all better.
Some top tips
When it comes to giving feedback to your team and colleagues, follow these habits and mindset tips and you won't go far wrong.
1) It's a good thing
Change the way you frame feedback. It’s an opportunity for growth - bear that in mind in both giving and receiving feedback.
2) Say it when you see it
If it’s important, don’t hold on to it for too long. Find the right opportunity as soon as possible to share the feedback in private.
3) Be clear
Be specific and clear in the way you deliver feedback. Remember, the objective is for the other person to grow and improve as a result.
4) Give specific praise
Be just as specific about the praise you give, and as above, say it when you see it. Praise and feedback is all about guidance and support.
5) Don't make it personal
Make sure that any feedback is about behaviour or work, and not about the personality. This keeps it objective and productive.
6) Bring it on
Invite feedback yourself, as this ensures it’s a two-way street. It builds trust in your intentions, and provides a huge opportunity to grow.
7) Do all of the above, all of the time
Don’t wait for stuffy, formal feedback sessions, or worse, when you’re at your wits' end with that person. It won’t work.
As Brene Brown said: “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.”