There’s plenty of it around us and it’s been with us since childhood. It’s why we learn and develop. Widely mistaken for critique and judgment, feedback is one of the greatest gifts of interpersonal communication and I think that no one needs convincing what an important tool it is not only at work, but actually in every aspect of our lives.
So what is feedback, actually? It’s specific information we give another person about how their specific action (or behaviour) affected us. Sadly, our brains like shortcuts, so they sometimes turn feedback into a true torture device for both the recipient and the provider. I sometimes catch myself withholding information just because I don’t know how to say what I mean without making things worse, which is certainly way too easy. Among the most common mistakes are the following:
- making remarks about the person – “You annoy me!”, “You’re lazy!”, “You don’t respect my time!”, “You’re boring me!”, “You’re irresponsible!”… Instead of criticising one’s behavior, we focus on the person and throw harsh words at them. Do you really think your colleague is absolutely always lazy, or maybe they rather failed to do something they were required to in a particular situation? Are you responsible for your feelings or is your boss responsible for you getting bored?
- incomplete information – we generalise, we don’t give specific examples and we don’t signal our expectations for the future. “You’re always late,” “you never work hard,” “do something about it,” “come up with something”… Showing discontent or giving praise is just a tiny step on the road to success. What should one do to avoid problems in the future or repeat the success?
- grouping feedback – Woe to those who all the feedback at once receive! Remember: everyone has their own limits to how much unpleasant information they can take at a time. Plus, there’s the issue of covert conflicts. Unresolved issues hang in the air and even if you haven’t spoken about them (yet), your behaviour towards the other person is changing. Once some time has passed, your comments will be outdated and the facts and information will become blurred, but your negative attitude will, unfortunately, remain the same.
Everything starts in your head
Every single one of us is different: we differ in characters, experience, and skills, which makes us learn something every time we communicate with others. Try to approach feedback with some humility and start a constructive conversation with another person with… having a chat with yourself. Think about what you want to say and plan it. I’m going to present you with a model that should help you do that.
Let’s have a look at a simple real-like example:You missed a meeting yesterday. I hadn’t received any information that you couldn’t attend before it started (fact), so I’m angry and I feel ignored (emotions). As a result, I’ll have to cover my travel expenses twice (consequence). Please inform me of such changes in advance, or if you’re unsure you can attend, we can think of something else, e.g. a videoconference (expectation).
A message constructed in this manner facilitates a full understanding of our position by the person we’re directing it to. It lets us talk about the situation itself without judging the other person’s character. It’s an opening to a discussion about a better future, which is the ultimate goal of giving feedback. Believe me, it can do wonders. It has, of course, some drawbacks: the message tends to be quite long and needs to be prepared beforehand, which is not always easy.
Keep your fingers crossed for us!
The people in our office committed feedback a long time ago. This mode isn’t the only tool we use as we also have some online tools, we give kudos using chocolate bars and other sweets, and so on. And you know what? The path might be a tortuous one, but it’s worth the effort. It’s great to see entire teams and team members inviting others to an open dialogue, waiting for feedback, and sharing constructive comments with one another. Do you have any for us? 🙂