On Feedback

Okay. Let’s talk about Feedback. In preparation for this blog post, I have interviewed my email newsletter readers (you should join this amazing group of leaders here), I have consulted my executive coach, and I have practiced different ways of giving and receiving feedback over the last few weeks. So here are my thoughts on Feedback.

Insight #1 – Psychological Safety is a requirement for healthy feedback culture.

In order for Radical Candor and Feedback Culture to really work at organizations, you need to make sure that two things are true: You need high psychological safety for difficult conversations and you need people who are willing to be direct or honest with each other.

For me personally, I am naturally a direct person. But over the years, I have become hyper-vigilant about the psychological safety around me. Whenever my managers would give me feedback to “speak up more” or “push the team’s thinking on this”, I felt like there was a lack of empathy for how it might feel for someone to speak up in an unsafe environment. Fear of retaliation is very real. Next time you see a quiet employee, especially someone who is a minority or person of color who is often under-represented in rooms, rather than tell them to speak up more, try being more curious about what is stopping them from speaking up. Some of the time, it will be because that person does not feel safe to speak up.

I’ve written more about psychological safety here.

Insight #2 – The pandemic has changed the game.

I asked my readers, “How has the pandemic and lockdown impacted your ability to receive and provide feedback, if any?” and here’s what they said.

The impact has been huge.

The inability to read body language has contributed to more angst on what people are actually thinking.

Zoom calls don’t foster the same level of trust and connection that an in-person conversation would have. The result is a decrease in trust between individuals because the connections online feel less genuine.

Giving and receiving feedback feels more confrontational. It also feels more formalized over virtual conversations.

We want feedback and connection, but we feel vulnerable and more sensitive to receiving it.

#3 – Great feedback doesn’t always feel good in the moment.

I asked my readers the question: “Think about the best feedback you’ve received in your career at work. How did you feel afterwards and what stuck with you? What made it such a positive experience? What was the context? What was the relationship with the person delivering feedback? Was there a particular way the feedback was delivered that made a difference?” Here’s what came through from their responses, with my own personal touch as well.

I was surprised to see how many responses talked about feedback that didn’t feel great in the moment of receiving it but ended up being really helpful in the long-run.

Common characteristics of great feedback were:

  • Delivered with kindness, even though the message might have stung a bit.
  • Delivered verbally over written communication.
  • Addressed and supported Imposter Syndrome by simply sharing how that person was adding value already and tangible things the team appreciated about them.
  • Constructive with thoughtful action items.
  • The manager took extra effort to remove the emotional and personal bias coming up in the responses and just hitting the constructive take-aways.
  • Feedback coming from people who actually know you well or have actually worked closely with you. Feedback from more distant acquaintances tend to be more about how they “feel” and less constructive.
  • Feedback that helps you be a better version of yourself and allows you to get to the next level.
  • SBI model for delivery: Situation, Behavior, Impact as a structural framework that helps facilitate smoother conversations.

#4 – Context Matters…A Lot.

I asked my audience: “Think about the worst feedback you’ve received in your career at work. How did you feel afterwards and what stuck with you? What made it such a negative experience? What was the context? What was the relationship with the person delivering feedback? Was there a particular way the feedback was delivered that wasn’t ideal?” Here’s what came through from their responses, with my own personal touch as well.

Common characteristics of horrible feedback:

  • The context and delivery of feedback is mis-managed with low empathy.
  • Emotional without constructive suggestions.
  • Critical of the person and their personality, not actual work. Bias, bias, bias.
  • Generalized and could have been said to anyone.
  • Unmemorable, not emotionally-vested, standard, plastic, boring.

#5 – Some tangible ways to improve feedback culture.

I asked my audience about how they would like to GIVE feedback and how they would like to RECEIVE feedback upon deeper reflection. Here’s what they said:

  • Create a psychological safe environment for your team.
  • Be curious and empathetic. Assume you do not know everything that contributed to the feedback. Try to understand the context.
  • Use feedback as a tool to drive more trust and connection, not less of it. Show up as an ally and a supporter. Genuinely ask, “How can I help you with this?”
  • Be human. Be honest. Be empathetic.
  • Make it safe to be imperfect. Take the pressure off the conversation by acknowledging everyone has development opportunities. Because it’s true!
  • Ask people how they want to receive feedback in advance. Adjust accordingly. My coach gave me some great tips on this: “How would you like me to deliver the feedback to you? From 1 being gentle almost a whisper, to 10 being extremely direct.” Give the person receiving the feedback the opportunity to control the volume of the feedback first. Then follow this with the SBI framework mentioned above and keep it focused on how you felt. Then listen to the other person’s perspective on it and really listen! Don’t interrupt or get defensive.
  • If possible, give the feedback face to face or 1:1 on the phone.
  • Make it a safe conversation to have ongoingly versus twice a year.

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