What’s the most painful piece of feedback you’ve ever received?
My top three are:
Coincidentally, this is also my top three list for pieces of insightful feedback that changed the course of my life for the better. So, why is the most painful feedback often the most insightful? And why does it usually come from someone we’re close to?
In this post, I’ll unpack the nature of constructive feedback, why it’s important, and three steps to shaping your feedback discussion with employees or peers.
Constructive criticism – whether giving or receiving – is a difficult experience for most. Even though feedback is a key part of continuous learning and growth, few of us naturally know the best way to work with it. Understanding why it’s uncomfortable is a great place to start. From there, we can build up a constructive approach to shaping feedback.
Imagine if you were trying to get directions to somewhere important and, rather than telling you to turn left, your phone told directed you to “Go a bit more to the left… if you want.” Alternatively, what if you missed the turn completely and your phone didn’t flag it? Either way, you’d never get to your destination!
When giving feedback to someone, we’re often concerned about making things worse or hurting the person we’re meaning to help. This causes us to sugarcoat our words or speak in vague terms to ‘protect’ that person. Unfortunately, this can have the opposite effect, leaving the recipient more confused and hurt than if the criticism had been clearly and constructively delivered.
I can only imagine how conflicted the people delivering that painful feedback would have been. The reality is that they did it because they wanted to see me succeed. Feedback is all about empowering someone with information and data to make changes and improvements to the way they work. Feedback informs goal setting, builds culture, and helps you understand how a person’s feeling over time to predict and prevent attrition. In most cases, it all comes down to what they said, how they delivered the information, and why they were doing it.
With that in mind, here are three steps to shaping your feedback so you get the point across in a kind and constructive way:
If all of the above is too much to process, just remember this: You’re giving the person this feedback because you want to help them improve. You’re making the choice to share this with them because their success matters more than a small amount of immediate discomfort. Let that purpose guide you and you’ll set yourself up for a successful conversation.
We actually all need feedback (particularly at work) to keep us engaged and help us improve our performance. As you might have expected, those top three pieces of feedback weren’t easy to receive. I’d like to say I took them well at the time but acknowledging my shortcomings, I can admit receiving feedback well is still a work in progress for me.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind when you’re on the receiving end of a feedback discussion:
It’s okay to have your own ideas for improvement, too. If something occurs to you in the moment, it’s a great opportunity to run those thoughts past the person giving feedback, and see what they think.
Although this may feel like a laundry list of things to remember, and these tips might not all occur to you during a discussion, we hope you’ve at least found a great place to start for giving effective feedback and receiving it in a constructive way.
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