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Navigating Feedback

A participant stayed after a class I had conducted recently to discuss some comments I made about feedback.  Let's call him "Bob".  Bob was OK with the method I chose to talk about in regards to feedback but disagreed that feedback was applicable to peers and even leaders/supervisors. He felt that feedback should only be given to subordinates.  After a lengthy dialogue, we went our separate ways agreeing to disagree.

I love having discussions like the one with Bob as it either opens my eyes to new possibilities or strengthens my current position.  A win/win situation regardless of the outcome.  I am a firm believer that constructive and supportive feedback is vital to anyone's communication portfolio

Let’s think about feedback as a navigation tool.  The one giving feedback is the navigator -we are all the captain of our own ship- and the journey is a river.  Leaders set up river banks for employees guiding the flow of their jobs or career path.  Sometimes those river banks are close together and sometimes they are very far apart depending on the trust in the employee as well as their talent.  Regardless, the navigator helps employees work down their own waterways through feedback.  Great navigators point out the roots, rocks or logs along the way.  Often times, it is the navigator’s job to remove or re-route around those obstacles if the employee cannot.  When an employee's boat gets sideways or caught in an eddy, the navigator may help steer.  Navigators can even cheer employees on telling them they are going in the right direction and encouraging them to go a little faster when they are ready.  

Here’s where Bob and I disagreed.  For peers and even our leaders, I believe feedback both ways can help us be a better team.  All the supportive and constructive feedback needs to consist of for anyone is:

1.      A specific and honest description of the performance

2.      Specifically, why it is important that you are bringing it up (including importance to the company, your relationship, their success etc.)

3.      What needs to be done or what you would like to happen or prefer they do

4.      An appreciation of the conversation  

I believe that can produce positive results for any work relationship.  If I am frustrated with how my peer or boss is treating me, I have an obligation to our team as well as to my success to talk to them about it.  If they are not receptive, don't care, feel it's not important or any number of other less than stellar reactions, I at least let them know how I felt and I can make decisions for my career path based on that knowledge.  

Here’s what it may look like: “Bob, thank you for your willingness to talk with me today in a respectful way regarding feedback.  You brought up some good points. When you asked my opinion and listened intently to my answer, you showed me you were open minded for a dialogue.  I feel this type of communication is important for us to continue to learn from each other.  Let’s keep in touch and please keep sharing your ideas with me. Thank you again for your honest and open-minded conversation.  I really appreciate it.”

Can you see how being more specific rather than “thanks”, “good job”, or “keep up the good work” will encourage specific behaviors to continue? Bob knows exactly what I felt helped us have a good dialogue and hopefully he will continue that behavior.  You certainly will put your own twist on the feedback but the key is being specific with a positive intent.

Giving feedback should be a natural part of your communication strategy.  If you are fantastic at this skill- awesome!  If not, start practicing and be OK to tweak your approach if you stumble.   Please help your teams by sharing an effective feedback technique with them so they can start practicing too. Feel free to use the one I outlined above or your favorite technique.  Encourage feedback and you will see healthier teams at all levels of your organization. 

Donelle Hintermeister