Feedback

We have all received feedback at one point or another. We’ve of course received feedback from our boss, but also from our kids (usually quite direct and inconsiderate of your feelings), your spouse, your friends and your “friends”. It is often hard to receive feedback, but it is equally difficult to give feedback, at least if you do it right. And note that there is a difference between feedback and opinion!

How to Give Feedback

“You can’t change other people, you can only change yourself” the saying goes – so when it comes to providing feedback, this saying is very relevant to you and the person you are evaluating. It means that change is a two way street – if you expect someone to change, you may just have to change yourself.

Marshall Goldsmith, in his book “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” suggests that before you start to conduct an evaluation or provide feedback, that you make four commitments to yourself:

  1. Let go of the past: if you cannot get over the things that the person you are evaluating has done in the past, is any feedback you give really genuine?
  2. Tell the truth: if you are just saying what you think they want to hear, you are wasting everyone’s time
  3. Be supportive and not negative: there is a “win” in it for you as well if you can improve a subordinate’s (or boss’) behavior
  4. Pick something to improve yourself: if you also make a change, you, and the person you are evaluating, have a stake in your mutual success.

These four commitments can help set you in the right frame of mind to make a more fair, objective and productive evaluation.

How to Receive Feedback

This is a tricky one. Goldsmith divides this up into different types of feedback.

Solicited feedback – when you ask for feedback – should be accepted gratefully, he suggests. Most of us will not ask for feedback from people unless we know them, and often because they are friends. If you ask for feedback, thank them, ask questions, but don’t disagree or offer your opinion on the feedback. After all, you asked, and they responded, so the right thing to say is “thank you”.

Unsolicited feedback can be harder to take. I once was on the phone with someone I hardly knew, and was asked a question that stumped me for a while. In answering I said “um” a few times (I guess), and the person on the phone said “you shouldn’t say ‘um’ so much it makes you sound very uneducated”. Nice (though I am more aware of my “ums” now, though am not overly grateful for that comment).

Goldsmith refers to a type of unsolicited feedback called the “blindside event”, where someone holds a mirror to your behavior, and you don’t like what you see. The first reaction is usually anger or indignation, and certainly disagreement with the comment. If you are introspective enough, and when you’ve calmed down, you may come to realize that someone else saw something about you that you didn’t. The sticky part is that everyone else may think the same thing of you, and you were the only one who didn’t know.

The feedback – solicited or not – ultimately will benefit you if, in a quiet moment of introspection, you can see the truth of the observation(s) about you. You may have to admit to a fault or apologize to someone or a group of people, and that Goldsmith argues is the important first step to healing and changing for the better.

It is hard work giving and receiving feedback. You need to be honest with other people, and honest with yourself, and sometimes it is not easy to do either!

What Got You Here Won’t Get You There is by Marshall Goldsmith with Mark Reiter, and is published by Hyperion, New York, ISBN 978-1-4013-0130-9 

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