Receiving and giving feedback is a crucial skill to have in order to learn and grow in one’s professional and personal life. However, we have hardly received any education about this during years spent in the formal education system. Receiving feedback is a precursor to offering feedback.
We live in a world of constant feedback loops. Imagine that you have joined a 6 week long fitness program to achieve your desired health and weight. You followed through for a few weeks and then dropped it. Resulting in you not being able to achieve your desired goal. Did you fail in it? No, it’s feedback that either you needed to work harder and follow through, or that the program was not the one that met your motivation to follow through.
In my professional career as an instructor for outdoor leadership programs, I have observed many educators intervening in the middle of an exercise or interaction with participants by saying “I have feedback”. Feedback is not something to get out in the air as soon as you feel the urge to express yourself. Rather, timely and tactfully given feedback can help the receiver be open to considering and reflecting on the feedback. This approach also helps in maintaining you rapport with the receiver. Feedback holds immense value when it is solicited with intent and mindfulness. It also takes some pressure off the feedback provider, as the receiver has willingly sought the information.
We all have belief systems that influence our ability to receive and give feedback. We need to understand that everyone has a perception which is built over their life experiences. Their perception is their personal understanding of the world. You have your own perception which may be inline with or different to others. That is totally ok. When we accept someone else’s perception about us we are agreeing to see that part of us as they are experiencing it. Acceptance of feedback Sends out a signal that you acknowledge their understanding of the world. Contrary to that, if we do not accept their feedback we communicate to them that we don’t accept their understanding of us and their perceptions.
Feedback holds immense opportunity for us to grow in terms of how we see the world. It also helps us in getting into the world as seen by others. Objective feedback acts as a medium to shrink our blind self and explore our potential.
Here are some tools and techniques you can utilize while receiving feedback:
Be open – Listen Listen Listen
While receiving feedback it is important for the speaker to feel comforted and heard. Remember that they are providing their story to the events. It is their perception. Be open to listen and give consideration to their message.
We are wired to form quick judgements due to emotions triggered by words or tone. Developing a judgement on incomplete information can prove to be devastating. Suspend any initial judgement, it may affect your ability to understand what exactly is being said.
Focus on speaker’s intention, words, emotions
While communicating, pay 100% attention to the speaker. Believe that the speaker has good intentions to help you grow. Don’t get distracted. Don’t let your thoughts and emotions take you on a ride. Be present and pay attention. Remember they might say something that may help you become a better person.
As you are listening, pay attention to the emotions they have attached to their words.
Do not generalize that everyone giving feedback is focused only on the negatives of a situation. We often close doors to valuable feedback by our generalizations.
A good response to this dialogue can be seeking clarification on how your actions are impacting their experiences. Asking such questions will not only assure them that you are interested to listen to them, it will also help in building rapport with the feedback provider.
Be mindful to not start explaining yourself while seeking clarification. Stop yourself if you are going that path.
During a conversation, especially when we are so excited to share our point or in times of disagreement, our emotions tend to take over and our brain starts to create responses. At this time we need to remind ourselves to disassociate from the emotion of the situation in order to objectively consider the information.
Appreciate for the feedback – say thank you
It can be overwhelming to hear the other person state their observations. Once they are done speaking, say “Thank You”. It is crucial to note that they could have chosen not to say anything that can help you can grow.
Being open to receiving feedback shows that you are interested in your growth by bringing changes in your actions.
Once you have received feedback, don’t sit on it. See if this is new information or there is a pattern. Chalk out a plan to do something about it. If there is a trend in the feedback, decide on some actionable steps to bring changes in your behaviour that are in your area of control. Get back to the person to inform her or him about the action you have taken.
How to give feedback?
When giving feedback remember that it can be hard for some people to receive it. Feedback must be given with empathy, respect and kindness or the message and messenger will be rejected. This is the very first tool to implement; practising kindness while offering feedback. Along with kindness there are a few more tools to help you offer feedback effectively.
State facts – What happened, when & where?
Help the other person understand by being specific about the situation and their actions. While reminding them of their actions be careful to not attach any judgements. This can help in creating space for a dialogue between receiver and giver. Being specific & direct doesn’t mean you need to be harsh or rude.
The feedback should be about something that is in the person’s control, so that they can do something about it.
While providing feedback with your facts, make them aware how you are affected by their actions. With this you are opening up about yourself which will help them to understand the way you see the world.
Speak for yourself. Say how you are affected. Restrain from using words like we think, we have observed and so on. Do not include others in your statements.
Feedback has a greater ability to inspire positive behaviors when given in the moment. Positive feedback not only encourages others to model that behaviour it also sends the signal that your actions are noticed and appreciated. Positive feedback is actually more important than negative or critical feedback in developing a strong team. This is a great leadership skill to have.
Be mindful of using the same technique for growth oriented feedback. Giving critique in front of others and repeating may seem like a personal attack. This can have the opposite effect. Make a note to have a 1:1 conversation.
Appreciate, Build on strength followed by area of improvement
Feedback exchange is not an opportunity to get everything out of your head. It is an opportunity to share the impact of their actions on you.
We tend to focus more on the negatives in a person and often their positive actions go unnoticed. Make an effort to see the positives and appreciate them for what they are doing well. Balanced feedback can really go a long way. Ideally, for one growth oriented feedback, you would provide four positives you have observed.
Offering alternatives, Request you to please start… or stop …
This is a great step to share the kind of behavior you expect out of them. Offer suggestions as to what they can do differently so it doesn’t affect you adversely. A behaviour or action they can start or stop doing. While offering suggestions be open to the outcome that they might not completely agree or act upon your suggestions.
We need to remember that giving feedback is a courageous act. While presenting feedback err on the tentative side. The steps above are some important tools to put in practise while exchanging feedback. It is very easy to be overwhelmed by all the steps mentioned above in your first feedback session. Feedback exchange is a skill that can be learnt by soliciting feedback, understanding how others communicate and learning from past experience.
Utilize the opportunity to offer and receive feedback at your home or work environment to strengthen your relationships and build trust. Start with implementing a couple of tools in your feedback sessions, and keep adding to your toolbox as you go along.
Written by –
Amit Arora, Outdoor Leadership & Wilderness Medicine Educator, with guidance from friends & mentors.
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