What is it about the word feedback that gives us a pit in our stomach or a sense of dread? Why do we fear this opportunity so much? The feedback process is a vulnerable place to be. The idea of giving and receiving feedback can cause anxiety for some people. I am one of those people. In most areas of my personal and professional life, I like to rip off the proverbial band aid. However, when it comes to feedback, I will avoid what triggers my anxiety. This is a short-term solution to an unavoidable long-term experience. Therefore, in this blog post, I wanted to share what I have learned about coping with any anxiety regarding feedback, and the importance of giving and receiving it.
One of the most powerful barriers we come up against is the fear that surrounds our comfort zone. We want to stay where it is safe and where we know what to expect. When we step outside of that, we experience worry, discomfort and sometimes panic. Yet, if we can push past that, we find ourselves in the best place for learning, growth and development. We may feel excited about what we are doing and be willing to try new things.
The Oxford Dictionary defines feedback as “information about reactions to a product, a person’s performance of a task, etc. which is used as a basis for improvement,” or “the return of a fraction of the output signal from an amplifier, microphone or other device to the input of the same device which produces sound distortion.” We see the first description as the most common understanding: honest praise or constructive analyzing in an effort to drive improvement. What about the second description? The short answer would be noise. I think both are incredibly apropos to this topic.
We generally talk about feedback in an up/down format, between a manager and an employee. Nevertheless, it is equally as important to have feedback flow sideways between colleagues and teammates. I recently participated in a session about giving and receiving feedback presented by a member of our internal learning and development team. As we discussed different places we could seek feedback, our trainer said something that really resonated with me. She asked, “Who sits on your Board of Directors?” At first, I did not understand what she was saying. But once I realized that my board would be comprised of people I felt would challenge me and help me feel less vulnerable when seeking feedback, the concept of feedback felt less unnerving. Your board could include your peers, business partners and leaders. It could and should include people outside of your industry, friends and family.
If you are a feedback provider, here are five ways to ensure you are providing the recipient with a meaningful experience:
- Be mindful. Why are you participating in this process? Is it solely because it is your role as a manager? Were you asked by the recipient or are you genuinely invested in helping another person become the very best they can be?
- Be timely. Always try to address an opportunity as close to the event as possible. The recipient is most likely expecting it and will be open to your suggestions. This also allows details to be fresh in everyone’s minds.
- Be specific. Stick to factual statements and avoid ambiguity. Cut out the noise from what others may tell you. Avoid words like never, always, etc. Be sure to discuss the impact of the behavior, not the person directly. Do not forget to offer suggestions to help them capitalize on opportunities for improvement.
- Be consistent. Try to find regular opportunities to provide feedback. This helps to avoid surprises and prevents any situation from getting out of hand. The traditional feedback process can be stressful when it feels as though a manager may save up comments/notes and unleash a year’s worth of feedback in one session. It can feel overwhelming and confrontational.
- Be positive. Start and end your session on a high note. This helps the recipient to not feel defensive during the session and to not leave the session feeling despondent. It also helps them realize that they are noticed for the positive impacts they make on the business every day.
If you are looking for ways to seek feedback from your Board of Directors, here are a few tips to help you get on track:
- Limit your focus. There can be many areas in which you may seek feedback. If you cast too wide of a net, you may find yourself unable to separate useful suggestions from the noise. You should concentrate on no more than two topics and seek feedback for behaviors that you can actually change or influence.
- Ask for what you want. It is important to be clear in what you are asking. Instead of asking “Do you have any feedback for me?” or “How can I improve?” perhaps you can try rephrasing your question into something that helps the provider give you what you really need to know. You may try something more specific, such as “I would like to build my influencing skills. After our next project meeting, would you provide me with feedback that could help me improve?” or “I have been working on adjusting my presentation skills to the audience. Would you provide me your thoughts on what more I can do the next time I present?”
- Seek examples. You may have to press for specifics once you have received feedback. A contributor may tell you “You need to develop your communication skills more fully.” That can be incredibly vague and rather unhelpful. You may need to push them to get to the heart of what they are trying to share.
- Request it in real time. This is shared above in the tips for feedback providers, but it also rings true for feedback seekers. You do not need the have scheduled time to discuss feedback. Take every opportunity to find brief, coachable moments and put those quick chats into action as soon as you can.
The concept of feedback does not have to be stressful or frustrating. A great way to approach it is to see it as an opportunity. Giving feedback can help build trust between you and your team. It can make your team stronger and function more productively. Receiving feedback can help you learn more about yourself and how others perceive you. Feedback can also improve your day-to-day performance and enhance your working relationship with others. It provides a chance to reflect on what is learned and develop a plan for implementation. While it can feel very uncomfortable in the beginning, the more you practice it, the more you are able to drown out the noise and really focus on how to give feedback effectively and receive feedback constructively.
Sabrina Colquitt, CMP
Senior Meeting & Event Planner
TIAA, CTS Meetings
The views expressed are those of Sabrina Colquitt, and do not necessarily represent the views of TIAA.