Giving and Receiving Feedback

Feedback is the foundation for self-development and developing others.

Since developing their people is a core competence of consulting companies they invest heavily in feedback, but it is a core interpersonal skill for everyone.

feedback cycle

You can improve your performance by taking action, then reflecting on the result and taking action again. But you will get stuck in you stay in your own head – you do not see what you are doing wrong, you will not see new avenues to improve.

I can practice my tennis serve a hundred times, and be just as bad at the end as I was at the start. This is not personal development, this is entrenching bad habits. However, if I have a coach watching me and providing feedback – “Throw the ball higher”, “follow through after hitting the ball”, “hold the racquet like this” – then I can improve.

This is why giving and receiving feedback are fundamental leadership skills

The importance of improving your skill at giving feedback to your career

If you are skilled at giving feedback, you will gain a reputation as a “people developer”. You will help people around you build their skills faster through this action-feedback-reflection-action cycle.

People development skills become a more and more important criteria for promotion decision as you rise towards C-level positions.

The importance of improving your skill at receiving feedback to your career

Guided missile

If you are skilled at receiving feedback, you will be a guided missile.

When you make mistakes, you will be able to course correct and hit the target next time. Your skill at receiving (and acting!) on feedback determines how fast you build new skills. Think about all the major challenges that you may face in your career and ask yourself, how many of them require you to learn new skills fast?

  • Posted to a new country?
  • Promoted to your boss’s job?
  • Changing to a new company?
  • Cross-functional moves?

Your ability to receive and act on feedback determines your “learning agility”, one of the top attributes leaders will need in a fast-moving world.

Feedback is a GIFT

The most important message to imprint in your head is the picture of feedback as a GIFT.Gift

The only purpose of a gift is to contribute to the receiver.

Both affirming and constructive feedback are gifts to the receiver.

Gift giving is an action deeply rooted in every human culture across the world:

  • You put thought into selecting and packaging your gift
  • Gift giving Strengthens bonds between people
  • You present your gift meaningfully, not casually
  • Gift giving shows you care and have thought about the other person
  • Even if you don’t like the gift (that hideous scarf you got for Xmas….) you show appreciation (and maybe it will grow on you upon reflection……..)

Different Types of Feedback

It is useful to make the distinction between three different types of feedback

three types of feedback

The most important point is that what differentiates them is the purpose, or the goal of the person giving the feedback. The actual words used might be similar between constructive and negative feedback, but the purpose will come across clearly in the tone and style those words are delivered.

Both affirming and developmental feedback are GIFTs, intended to help you understand your strengths and improve.

Negative/Critical feedback has a different purpose – it is intended to dominate, diminish the other person and hurt them. This is where the person feels judged and found wanting.

Check in with yourself before you give feedback – what is your purpose? If you can sense anything negative/critical, you are best off not giving the feedback – that part will come across to the other person and they will then stop listening and go into defensive mode.

Also, try to catch yourself from dropping into giving negative/critical feedback during your conversation. Sometimes you can start off giving constructive feedback….and the other person punches your buttons. Your “gift” goes out of the window and you start punching……that conversation is not going to end well.

Build your skills in both these areas:

For an excellent article on the challenges of team learning with knowledge workers, read:

“Teaching Smart People how to Learn” by Chris Argyris (HBR). Chris Argyris is the James B. Conant Professor at the Harvard graduate schools of business and education.

Blog article from a Stanford Business School Professor teaching Interpersonal Dynamics

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