Everybody has a right to feedback

We are not able to make progress without being mirrored by our counterparts – and then, I would argue, we even cannot understand who we really are. Therefore: everybody has a right to feedback! 

Also, it is true at the same time that not every single feedback can be used by the feedback recipient in a constructive manner. Feedback must come in a certain form; otherwise the feedback recipient becomes defensive, and the feedback does not get through to him/her at all or only triggers anger.

In order for feedback to be received and to be useful for the further development of the respective person, there are four very simple rules for the feedback provider:

  1. Ask the feedback recipient for permission
  2. Describe a specific observation without any form of judgment
  3. Express the effect on yourself (on the feedback provider)
  4. Express a wish/request/suggestion

These rules can be applied to both positive and critical feedback:

Referring to 1: In both cases, the feedback recipient must be willing and open to receive feedback (i.e., time and place must be right). Therefore, they should ask the following question: “May I give you a brief feedback regarding situation X, or would you rather hear it in another time or place?” 

Referring to 2: The situation observed should be described as detailed as possible and should be based solely on facts so that the feedback recipient can remember it exactly. 

Referring to 3: The description of the effect on the feedback recipient is important especially when it involves critical feedback. This form of self-revelation creates some kind of openness on the part of the feedback recipient so that he/she is able to receive this feedback in the first place. 

Referring to 4: It is necessary to end the feedback with a specific request, especially in the case of critical feedback. This avoids further misunderstandings. If the situation occurs again afterwards, the feedback recipient then knows exactly how the feedback provider imagines the ideal situation. There is no room for interpretation that might lead to misunderstandings again. Positive feedback can end with a suggestion, such as “I wish you would do more of this”. Or: “I see a great strength in you, have you ever thought about developing it further?”

The rules are even more straightforward for the feedback recipients: assuming they have agreed to the feedback at this point and time, they should just listen, really try to understand the feedback and let it sink in. Any form of off-the-cuff justification has no place in here. If the feedback recipient has a completely different view of the situation described, I recommend to arrange to meet again at a later time in order to then focus on the feedback recipient's view.

There are three types of feedback

  • The feedback I described above takes place in a one-on-one situation and often refers to a situation that has triggered a high level of emotion in the person giving the feedback. The challenge is to put these emotions aside when giving feedback. The best way to accomplish this is for the person giving the feedback to sleep on it, but also not to let too much time pass, because the feedback should be given promptly. It goes without saying that feedback should always be given in the form of nonviolent communication : “YOU” messages must be avoided by all means! The aim of the feedback should be to resolve an emerging conflict as early as possible or to reinforce a positive observation by expressing it.
  • Another type of feedback is feedback on work performance. Two co-workers get together to form a learning pair. They observe each other in work situations and take notes of their behavior. At regular intervals, they arrange to meet for a feedback session in which they give each other feedback on a series of observations. Basically, the conversation can follow the same rules as above. The wording may not need to be chosen as carefully as with situational feedback, as it usually involves a low level of emotions. This feedback on work performance promotes the professional development of the people involved. The feedback recipient can of course discard the feedback received and the associated recommendation for herself. She is free to implement the feedback or might deliberately not implement it when it does not feel right to her.
  • The third form of feedback is team feedback - known as retrospective. This is where the things that concern the whole team are put on the table – and on the board – and are not just important between two individuals. Any retrospective, if conducted regularly and correctly, ensures good communication and better collaboration within the team.

In a nutshell: Feedback that is given carefully serves to resolve misunderstandings quickly and effectively, thus avoiding conflicts. Every team member has a right to feedback on work performance as it serves their personal development. In addition, a good feedback culture leads to higher team performance.

This text first appeared in my newsletter 'Innovation on Wednesday'. It is published every other Wednesday. For subscription click here

Further reading:

Andrea SchmittInnovationstrainerinAm Mittelpfad 24aD 65520 Bad Camberg+49 64 34-905 997+49 175 5196446
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