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The value of feedback

It is said that Feedback is the breakfast of champions. If so, you would think that feedback should be regularly given and received.

I don’t believe this is always the case. For some reason, we are not that practised at giving and receiving feedback. Yet effective feedback can be so valuable in helping us grow.

I recently had the privilege of receiving effective feedback from a colleague. It had both elements of encouragement and areas where I could grow and improve. If this feedback had not been given, or if I reacted against it, I would have missed a very important message about how I had hurt and offended a colleague through something I said. I was pained to think that I had caused this, but thankful that I had been given a perspective to respond and correct as best as I could.

So today’s email is about feedback. How to give it as well as how to receive it. I think we grow stronger, have more insight and are able to take better action when we have feedback.

What is Effective Feedback?

Effective feedback as that which is clearly heard, understood and accepted. Those are the areas that are within your power. You have no control over whether the recipient chooses to act upon your feedback, so let’s put that to one side.

So how can you make sure that your feedback is effective? Develop your feedback skills by using these few rules, and you’ll soon find that you’re much more effective.

  1. Feedback should be about behaviour not personality

The first, and probably the most important rule of feedback is to remember that you are making no comment on what type of person they are, or what they believe or value. You are only commenting on how they behaved. Do not be tempted to discuss aspects of personality, intelligence or anything else. Only behaviour.

  1. Feedback should describe the effect of the person’s behaviour on you

After all, you do not know the effect on anyone or anything else. You only know how it made you feel or what you thought. Presenting feedback as your opinion makes it much easier for the recipient to hear and accept it, even if you are giving negative feedback. After all, they have no control over how you felt, any more than you have any control over their intention. This approach is a blame-free one, which is therefore much more acceptable.

  1. Feedback should be as specific as possible

Especially when things are not going well, we all know that it’s tempting to start from the point of view of ‘everything you do is rubbish’, but don’t. Think about specific occasions, and specific behaviour, and point to exactly what the person did, and exactly how it made you feel. The more specific the better, as it is much easier to hear about a specific occasion than about ‘all the time’!

  1. Feedback should be timely

It’s no good telling someone about something that offended or pleased you six months later. Feedback needs to be timely, which means while everyone can still remember what happened. If you have feedback to give, then just get on and give it. That doesn’t mean without thought. You still need to think about what you’re going to say and how.

  1. Pick your moment

There are times when people are feeling open to feedback and times when they aren’t. For example, an angry person won’t want to accept feedback, even given skilfully. Wait until they’ve calmed down a bit.

Receiving Feedback

It’s also important to think about what skills you need to receive feedback, especially when it is something you don’t want to hear, and not least because not everyone is skilled at giving feedback.

Be Open to the Feedback

In order to hear feedback, you need to listen to it. Don’t think about what you’re going to say in reply, just listen. And notice the non-verbal communication as well, and listen to what your colleague is not saying, as well as what they are.

Use different types of questions to clarify the situation, and reflect back your understanding, including emotions.

For example, you might say:

“So when you said …, would it be fair to say that you meant … and felt …?”
“Have I understood correctly that when I did …, you felt …?”

Make sure that your reflection and questions focus on behaviour, and not personality. Even if the feedback has been given at another level, you can always return the conversation to the behavioural, and help the person giving feedback to focus on that level.

And finally…always thank the person who has given you the feedback. They have already seen that you have listened and understood, now accept it. We grow stronger when we are proactive about the information given to us in feedback.

(With thanks to NLP principles and an article from “skills you need”)


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