Some skills are essential to success, but are never taught in school. A prime example is how to give and receive feedback.
For the most part, we know when it’s done well: it feels natural, productive, and humbling. And we definitely know when it’s NOT done well: we leave feeling indignant and criticized.
So what makes feedback good feedback?
We dove into this topic at a recent SIGroup. Community member and always-curious learner, Nicole Markwick, shared her tried-and-tested recipe for feedback and guided us through some tricky scenarios. We focused on how to give feedback because understanding what goes into good feedback also makes us more able to appreciate it when given.
But why do this? To Nicole, feedback is one of the greatest gifts you can give or receive. Sure, sometimes it comes in ugly wrapping paper: it’s not delivered smoothly, and maybe it gets your back up. But true feedback is a precious opportunity to grow as a colleague, a friend, or partner in crime. When we decide not to give feedback, we deny the other person the chance to change. Even gifts given in ugly wrapping paper can be beautiful when you focus on the nuggets of gold inside.
Read on to learn how you can give and receive feedback like a pro!
- 1 cup Humility
- 2 tbsp Courage
- 1 tbsp Curiosity
- 1 cup Recognition of peoples’ capacity to hear feedback
- Dash of directionality
- Frank conversation to taste
1) Figure out the point of your feedback. If your aim isn’t constructive, skip it. The difference between criticism and feedback is that your comments point to a way to improve the situation and are delivered in a neutral tone. If you can’t point to the reasons why you feel the need to provide feedback (Did someone ask? Have they done something hurtful or problematic?) and ways in which they might be able to improve, your feedback may do more harm than good.
2) Drop the ego. Bring humility to the table and embrace that you truly don’t know what’s best for someone else.
3) Stick to the facts. Describe your take on the situation as factually as possible. Avoid accusations and assumptions. Help the person to see things through your eyes.
4) Ask clarifying questions. Does your description of the situation ring true to the other person? Give them a chance to clarify, contextualize, or correct you.
5) Providing suggestions when asked. Suggestions may not be helpful, so check first if someone is actually looking for your ideas. Then, explain what you’d recommend and why you think that.
6) Check in again. Does your feedback make sense and/or feel useful to them? If they say yes, great! If they say, “Um…uh…..eh…..” that means NO. Head back to Step 4.
Just like any good recipe, this is a base. Experiment and make it your own! Practice it the next time you’re in a team meeting or feeling the need to let your partner know how to do the laundry properly. Overtime, this recipe will add new flavors to your life.
Are you the one giving feedback? You have the responsibility of taking the high road because you know the feedback is coming. The recipient doesn’t. You can also make it easier for the recipient by delivering feedback in a manner that they would prefer (e.g. email / scheduled meeting / water cooler conversation).
Are you the one getting feedback? If you’re getting feedback from someone and they’re not doing it well, use the recipe! Unsure why someone’s giving you feedback? Ask them to share what they’re hoping you get out of it. Does someone’s feedback feel accusatory? Ask them to describe what they think happened in a situation, then ask clarifying questions. Make sure both parties understand how the other saw the situation, then ask for suggestions.
Bumping up against hurt feelings and defensiveness? Focus on the future. Instead of talking about what went wrong, talk about how things can be better next time. Sometimes shifting away from the past promotes greater openness and creativity.
Sharing feedback with someone higher up? Power dynamics can be tricky. You might need to be extra positive. Acknowledge what is working well. Point to where there can be even more positives.
Are you feeling emotionally charged? It’s ideal to offer feedback from a neutral place but some situations trigger strong emotions. The best way to deal with it is to be honest and say how you feel. Say what’s going on. This is where you’ll need to tap into courage and be vulnerable!
Are you doing a performance evaluation? As the evaluator, you can help alleviate anxiety for the evaluee by explaining the process and rubric before sharing feedback. That way, you are addressing Step 4 (clarifying questions) first. As the evaluee, you can help guide Step 1 by asking the evaluator specific questions (e.g. What would you like to see differently in my next annual report?)
Remember: feedback is a gift.
Sometimes feedback might not come in a nicely wrapped package. It can even feel a little off-putting. But there’s always a gift if you allow yourself to see it. And as a person giving feedback, you owe it to people to share it. Don’t withhold the gift! Empower them to live up to their potential.
Thanks again to Nicole Markwick for facilitating this conversation!
Nicole Markwick works to connect people and ideas for social impact. She has a background in public health, and is passionate about finding ways to be happier and healthier. Nicole now brings this love to bear at Kudoz, a novel learning platform for adults living with cognitive disabilities, where she works as an Engagement Curator.
Join us for the next conversation.
The Social Impact Learning & Support Group is an open community of impact-focused people in Vancouver, BC. We gather monthly to develop skills and to offer peer support. Sign up for the newsletter to stay in the loop.