By Elizabeth Putfark
How often do you offer feedback to the people you work with? If you’re in management, it might feel like you do it all the time. However for many of us, feedback is one of those things that often doesn’t feel worth the hassle – after all how much could it really change?
According to industry experts, a lot. Providing effective feedback is a crucial aspect of maintaining a productive and positive workplace. For that reason and many more, Hillary Barr, senior director at Insights personal development company, describes feedback as “a gift.”
“We call it the gift of feedback because it’s truly that,” she explains. “If you aren’t hearing from others where things could improve, then you’re not improving.”
Feedback can offer motivation, correction, encouragement and collaboration, but only if it’s well-timed and voiced appropriately. So how do you navigate that minefield?
Before you voice your critique, take stock of the entire situation. What other viewpoints are involved? “Perception is probably the most important thing in communication,” Barr claims. “We can have a perception of ourselves and a perception of others, and they can have a perception of themselves and of us, and all those things can be on separate planes.
“Understanding that people’s perceptions are in play at all times can help with so many things – from boardroom discussions to one-on-one feedback opportunities.”
Taking into account someone else’s perception means looking at a situation through their eyes with a sympathetic rather than antagonistic lens. Considering the perspective of the person you’re addressing – either as a giver or receiver of feedback – can make you much more likely to communicate with them in a way they appreciate and understand.
Build a Foundation
Another important step before lodging a list of complaints is to consider the atmosphere surrounding you in your workplace. Do you regularly
offer feedback on tasks? Does anyone else? If feedback is not already commonplace, focus first on establishing a foundation of communication that’s conducive to both positive and negative feedback.
“The gift of feedback is not always criticism,” says Barr. “Sometimes we forget to tell people when they did something great or when we recognized that they shined as a leader. That kind of feedback is beneficial, too, and gives you a lot of credibility for offering feedback in the future.”
As you look around your office, pay attention to the positives as well as the negatives and make a point of calling them out. Not only will you establish a rapport with your coworkers that includes performance review, but you’ll also take the edge off of critical conversations in the future.
Pay Attention to Preference
According to Barr, one of the hardest things about giving and receiving feedback is looking beyond our own personal preferences. “A big mistake people make in communicating is to only utilize their own preferences and expect everyone else to have the same,” she explains. “If I come to someone and communicate in my own direct way and that’s not their preference, then we’re not going to connect and they’re not going to hear me the way I need them to.
“You need to tailor what you’re saying so it lands on the person the right way and so that they hear it with the best interpretation.”
That means paying attention to body language and communication before, after and during difficult chats.
Companies like Insights thrive on their ability to teach workers how to read these subtle signals and make the necessary adjustments so that their coworkers, superiors and employees hear them in the most effective way possible.
Choose Your Moment
Sometimes the easiest way to unload feedback seems to be dropping it on someone’s lap and then walking away – you’re busy, after all, and who wants the discomfort of sticking around?
Yet ill-timed or ill-placed feedback can leave a negative taste in everyone’s mouth. Barr suggests three rules for offering feedback that will help it hit the mark without sacrificing your personal comfort.
First, create the right space. “It’s not the best approach to do the drive-through delivery of feedback. Sit down somewhere private and give the person the opportunity to make it a true conversation where they can ask questions, as opposed to just saying ‘I noticed in the meeting yesterday…’ and that’s it.”
Next, keep things timely. “If you go to someone and say ‘three months ago we were having a conversation and…’ it’s not going to come across well. Feedback needs to be much timelier than that.”
Finally, leave space for the other person to respond and offer feedback as well. “I think it’s great to ask for feedback and be open to hearing it,” says Barr, “especially if it’s different from what you’re expecting. There are so many people it helps to get feedback from – whether it’s a boss, mentor or just a coworker somewhere along the same career path.”
Of course, seeing someone’s response to feedback or even experiencing our own can sometimes go differently from how we’d like. To combat our natural defensiveness, Barr suggests turning to alternative interpretations immediately upon facing a difficult encounter.
“We like to start with what we call the most respectful interpretation” she explains. “For instance, I might think this is what’s happening, but there’s probably a more respectful interpretation out there that puts me in a more open space to accept feedback or have a different perspective on what really might be happening.”
By taking the most respectful interpretation of a conversation or encounter, you better your own reactions and as a result leave a more positive impression on the other person. Resist the urge to demonize or make excuses and instead take offered advice in its best potential version.
Make the Change
While getting everyone in your office communicating sounds great, it’s easy to imagine how things could turn out. As Barr describes, “I saw this caricature the other day of a speaker that asked a group of people ‘who thinks we need to change?’ Everyone raised their hands. Then they asked, ‘Who’s willing to do the work to change?’ and no one raised their hand.”
But that doesn’t make feedback any less valuable. “I think the first step is to receive the feedback and be willing to give it, but the second step is being willing to apply it. If you’re not willing to do anything about it, people aren’t going to be willing to give it to you anymore.”
Most importantly, as you strive for a more open workplace that dialogues about shortcomings rather than gossiping about them, keep in mind Barr’s central claim: that feedback itself is a gift.
“We call it the ‘gift of feedback’ because even if it may feel like criticism in the moment, the fact that you’re willing to give someone difficult feedback means you care enough about their development to talk to them. To give them that gift.”
“What you do with those gifts brings about even more gifts.”
Hillary Barr, senior director, enterprise solutions has over 20 years of experience in the human resources and organizational development arena. She has been with Insights for nearly four years designing and implementing learning and development solutions for U.S. organizations based in the southeast. To learn more about personal development and professional strategies, visit www.Insights.com.