Feeding Frenzy: Learning to Love Feedback

Like saving for retirement or getting enough sleep, we know feedback is good for us. So why is it so challenging to build consistent, constructive feedback into our cultures? 

We all want to grow in our areas of expertise, work collaboratively with teammates, deliver excellent projects, and to see our hard work lead to meaningful change in our work and world. At the same time, many of us will go out of our way to avoid the one thing that is most likely to help us achieve those outcomes: giving and receiving direct feedback.

Social science has studied WHY this is so – but for this article, we’re going to focus on HOW to improve. Here are a few helpful hacks to make being on either side of the feedback conversation more productive.

If you are receiving feedback:

  • Notice if you find yourself becoming defensive – a normal response to feedback. Instead, try to listen with curiosity and a “growth mindset.”
  • Don’t take it personally. Effective feedback is about achieving common goals and team objectives. It is generally not a reflection of your character or effort.
  • Make ongoing feedback part of your individual career plan.
  • Try to separate your work and ideas from your identity. Research indicates that the more complex our work, the more likely we are to confuse it with our “self.”
  • Clarify, clarify, clarify. Use your best communication tools. Before you leave the conversation, you should be able to restate what went wrong, what the desired outcome looks like, and what specific actions you will take to close the gap between the two.

If you are giving feedback:

Useful feedback should align to organizational goals. It should reflect what is going well as well as areas for improvement.

  • Link feedback to the goals and metrics of the team, and provide specific and measurable examples.
  • Make it face to face. Email leaves too much to interpretation and imagination.
  • Clarify expectations and define success. Make sure you don’t only focus on the problem; take time to clearly describe what the desired outcome looks like.
  • Allow the recipient time to process and ask questions. This is the time to stop talking, be patient and listen.
  • Set a follow-up date and honor it. Establish a mutually acceptable time to check in and see how the improvement process is going.
  • Focus on negative behavior only when it is a pattern that disrupts the productivity of the team. When the behavior is only upsetting to individuals, try not to intervene. Instead, coach one on one to help individuals learn to have productive, collaborative conversations about their concerns with peers.

Giving and receiving feedback is most effective when it is embedded in the culture of an organization, and not just part of an annual review process. This is why so many tech firms invest time and resources to become learning organizations.  If you want to innovate, you must have an orientation toward constant growth – and that means continuous feedback.

If you are interested in reading more on this topic, check out the book Radical Candor by Kim Scott, a faculty member at Apple University, a former executive at AdSense, YouTube and Google, and a former advisor to Dropbox and Twitter.

You may also be interested in:

Four Reasons Why Giving and Receiving Performance Feedback is Important,  Giving and Receiving Feedback with Poise and Grace, and  Top Practices for Performance Management. 

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