Why do we make feedback so complicated?
Are you reluctant to give your colleague feedback? Do you struggle with getting feedback? Or would you like everyone on your team to help each other more by sharing tips? What’s stopping you or why doesn’t this happen more often? In this first blog of the series “Feedback: the most normal thing in the world?!” we strip this powerful tool of the non-effective veil that covers it.
What is feedback?
The term, “feedback” comes originally from systems theory. With verbal or non-verbal feedback, you are essentially providing a response to a previous action by which you influence that action.
Feedback is often experienced as criticism. This immediately gives it a certain charge and that is very unjustified; it is, as said above, only feedback. Think of how you drive a car: small nudges to the steering wheel make sure that the car stays on the road and that you reach your destination safely. It’s similar on the work floor. During meetings, in personal conversations or at the morning get-together you hear what colleagues are (possibly) struggling with. This gives you opportunities to help a colleague with a little tip or some advice. But also, to give a compliment for something your colleague has done well. That, too, is feedback! When you share feedback with colleagues, everyone is able to function better and the team as a whole becomes more successful.
“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.”
How high is the bar?
As a team or organization, everyone has the same goals in mind. Satisfied customers, increasing market share, the best products and professional service. The level of those goals, the mix and relationship between the goals and the internal way of working, of course, differs from company to company. But those goals do form a common reference point in relation to feedback. After all, feedback is not random, because the feedback giver considers something very important himself or is annoyed by a colleague based on her own personal preferences!
When mutual feedback is related to the goals or results that your organization wants to achieve, feedback is always functional and helps the other to develop themselves. And this in turn, contributes to the realization of the organizational goals! Feedback does not have to be experienced as personal criticism or hassle and no one needs to be afraid of putting the mutual relationship under stress. After all, you’re both helping to strengthen the organization and the team!
Afraid of fuss?
You can give feedback in various situations: during meetings, in performance reviews, in bilateral conversations and in the workplace. There can be different causes for the failure to share feedback. For example, you might think that the relationship with the other person is being jeopardized. Or that it is experienced as criticism. And the same goes for receiving feedback. It helps to see the sharing of feedback as functional feedback to help the other person – and thus the team – become more successful.
Don’t make it bigger than it needs to be
In our practice, we still see it too often: managers who save their feedback for the scheduled performance reviews or the annual assessment rounds. Why? Because this does not help employees to make timely adjustments and contribute to the team or organizational goals.
To illustrate why continuous feedback (giving and receiving!) is important, let’s take a little trip to the sports field. How should an athlete improve her lap times if she doesn’t know what her current times are or how can a soccer player improve his technique if he can’t watch a game back or doesn’t get the data on his effectiveness?
It’s no different in businesses! Give your employees regular insight into what you think is going well and where potential improvement lies. Don’t save it up, because by doing so you not only miss opportunities for someone to develop themselves, but you also prevent it from becoming unnecessarily complex, heavy or complicated. What does it cost you and what is the worst that can happen? A little bit of time and attention has a big effect. It gives your colleague a chance to develop and you contribute to strengthening team success. And if the other person doesn’t recognize your feedback? Then you have a wonderful opening for a very valuable conversation. Whatever the outcome, feedback – if given to help the other person – only has winners!
“We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.”
And what about getting feedback?
As Bill Gates so eloquently puts it, we all need people who will give us feedback because that is how we improve ourselves. Let’s work together towards a continuous flow of feedback in the team where giving and receiving feedback is the most normal thing in the world. Invite your colleague to give you feedback and see it as an opportunity to develop yourself further.
And remember, feedback is not just about where you can improve, but also about insight into what you do well or where your strengths lie. You are in control of what you ask for feedback about, start small if you are dreading it. And if you get feedback you are not happy with? Try not to get defensive, but ask for clarification. It may just be that the other sees something that you yourself were not aware of and that you can work with. How good is that?
Getting started with feedback? This is how you help each other!
We hope you come to see feedback as a great opportunity to really help each other out.
Avoid reciprocal irritation or anger, it will not help anyone.
Are you annoyed by a colleague? It can be helpful to write down for yourself what is going on. What do you see, what do you feel, what effect does the other person’s
behavior have and how could you help him or her?
You can use the following rules of thumb depending on the background and the level of feedback :
- Describe the behavior of the other person as objectively and concretely as possible (behavior)
- Explain what the consequence of that behavior is (consequence)
- Describe the feeling it evokes in you (feeling)
- State what possible alternatives could be and how this might contribute (desired)
Would you like to know more about the effective use of feedback?
For 30 years InContext has been the specialist in developing leadership and team development programs, serious games and online tools. Both in the Netherlands and worldwide. Our professional consultants know better than anyone how to combine inspiration, creativity and partnership with analysis, action and results. We make a difference with innovative, sustainable solutions for our clients. By using serious gaming – whether or not in combination with consultancy – you allow your colleagues to practice and make decisions based on recognizable scenarios. They receive feedback on actions, how things can be done differently and they can immediately practice with other interventions and behavior. Take a look at Selfie 360, Team Flow Index, Ixplora or TeamUp.
Also read the blogs ‘Is feedback still relevant?’ and ‘Feedback is the breakfast of champions’ and our podcasts on connection, leadership and sustainable collaboration. Do you have any questions after reading this blog or can we think along with you about the possibilities for your team or organization? Please feel free to contact us, we would love to help you.
For this blog we used the following sources:
- Covey, S. (2015). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (25th Anniversary ed.).
- Blanchard, K. (2016). BK Blog | Feedback is the Breakfast of Champions by Ken Blanchard.
- Benedict, T. (2009). The winning dialogue (3rd ed.). Reed Business Education.
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