Feedback is a skill

You know what it’s like, you get negative feedback on something you’ve laboured over for a while and it takes the wind out of your sails, doesn’t it?  This has happened to me twice in a matter of weeks.  On the first occasion, I was completely unprepared for fairly harsh criticism of my website and didn’t really know what to say, until that is, I got home and thought of all the things I should have said.  Was it justified?  Probably.  Could it have been handled differently?  Definitely.

On one hand I felt like giving up and on the other, I have this deep desire to be successful.  So, with gritted teeth I got on with it.  And then I realised that the person levelling this feedback knew less than I did about how to build websites.  So, was this a clue?  Was this feedback more to do with the giver rather than receiver?  Had I unwittingly touched a sore, rather than sweet spot?  I’ll never know. What I do know is this.  If, you’re in a similar situation ask the giver for an example from their own work so you can learn from them.  And, if they haven’t got one, ask them what their opinion is based on, so you can better understand where they’re coming from.  And, of course be polite and grateful for the interest they’ve shown in pointing out the error in your ways.

It’s important that you do understand, so you can learn from your mistakes and equally so, to put the feedback into some sort of context, so you know how to deal with it, especially if it doesn’t seem genuine.  And, asking questions to gain clarity is the way to go.  There’s probably a grain of truth buried somewhere in the feedback, so don’t ignore it.  The problem is that there could be a heap of other stuff that’s been lumped together.  In my experience, some people have a tendency to group things together and come up with all sorts of conclusions as a result, a bit like adding two and two and getting five.
On the second occasion, I had spent a fair amount of time writing an article, which I felt quite pleased about.  Although, I had asked for feedback on the draft, having come up with an idea that needed to be rubber stamped, I was more than knocked back when I got one criticism after another.  Whoa. What’s going on here?  There was no expression of thanks for taking the initiative and doing a piece of work that was entirely voluntary, using time that I could have spent on improving my website!  I decided to follow my own advice and not respond in the heat of the moment.  So, I waited until the following day before sending a calmly composed response.

Again, I considered whether or not this feedback said more about the giver, rather than the output in question.  And, if it did, what would have happened if I hadn’t stood up for yourself?  The giver would win and get their way, leaving me, the receiver, feeling weak and incompetent and unlikely to do volunteer again. If you want to get the best out of people, you won’t achieve it, if you act like this.  Instead, see things from the other person’s point of view. In his seminal work, ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People,’  Dale Carnegie says “always make the other person feel important.”

If you receive negative feedback, it’s important to frame it.  What do you know about the giver? Perhaps, they were having a bad day or maybe they wanted to do something that was equally as good as your article for example, but didn’t have the time or inclination.  Who knows? What I do know is this.  I won’t second guess another person’s thoughts and motives, as you’ll end up giving yourself a hard time for no reason at all.  And this will erode your self-belief.  Instead, deal with it professionally, take some time to calm down and above all else stay true to yourself.

Have you tried to correct someone’s behaviour?  Did you tell them what they did wrong? And, if so, did you focus on the the receiver’s undesired behaviour rather than on how you, the giver, could change it?  Yet, we need feedback to let us know how well we’re doing, and where to make improvements.  This applies, whether you’re an employee or an employer or someone who is running a small business.  Giving constructive feedback is essential and yet, time and time again, the giver gets it wrong.  I’ve concluded that giving feedback is a skill and you can learn how to do this properly.  Here are some tips to help you.

  • What is the outcome you want to achieve?  For example, do you want the receiver to do a better job?
  • If so, feedback should be constructive by making sure that it’s specific and based on something you have either experienced yourself or has been reported to you.
  • Are you being reasonable?  Or, have you over reacted because of some failing on your part?  Avoid making assumptions, unless you’re unsure and, if so, test these out by asking questions.
  • Make sure the feedback is about the receiver’s behaviour because that’s what you’d like them to change, rather than making it personal.
  • Focus on what you’d like the receiver to do, rather than telling them what you don’t want them to do.
  • Put this into practice by building rapport with the receiver.  Tell them what worked really well and what they could do next time for an even better outcome; avoid using ‘but.’
  • Find out if the receiver understood by asking them what they’re going to do differently and how they’ll do it.   Get them to feel that they want to do this.
  • End on a positive note that is encouraging and motivating. Leave the receiver in a good place, as we’re all bound to be in their shoes, some sooner, rather than later.
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