It’s only been a week since my last newsletter but next weekend is Black Friday and you know what that means? Your inbox is going to be inundated with emails! And I figured I’d save you from one more (although you may see a promo email from me too ;)).
There’s a topic that comes up a lot with my clients, and that is feedback.
We know it’s helpful… even considered a gift. And yet we beat around the bush when we have to give constructive feedback. And get defensive when someone gives it to us.
Let’s be real here. Feedback is TOUGH! It’s tough to give and it’s tough to receive. But the truth is it will help you get better. And you owe it to your team to share it. So today let’s dive into:
- Why we struggle with feedback
- How to give feedback in a way that feels good
- How to receive feedback, and ensure you’re getting it
Why we struggle with feedback
I believe your resistance to feedback comes down to a basic human principal: we want people to like us. When we were hunter gatherers, we didn’t want to be cast out of the tribe because our survival depended on it. And although we’re no longer living this way, the underlying instinct remains.
We want people to like us, and we don’t want to do something that will make them not like us.
And if we’re telling people something they may not want to hear, we fear they will no longer like us.
Too simple? If you get really honest with yourself, you’re probably feeling some version of this:
- Worried you’ll hurt someone’s feelings
- Concerned your employee will leave
- Afraid it won’t be well received
Do you see it now? It all comes down to a fear of rejection. To getting kicked out of the tribe.
And struggling to receive feedback is similar. When someone shares an area of improvement, we instantly feel rejected. Self-doubt pops up. We start to question our abilities. We want people to like us and think we’re good at stuff!
But it’s worth getting uncomfortable…
Because growth doesn’t happen without getting a little uncomfortable. We need to be willing to put our own discomfort aside for the good of our team. Because our feedback is going to help them get better!
And the same goes for receiving feedback. Does it sting? Hells yeah. Is it good for us? You bet it is.
Before I get into tips for giving feedback, you need to believe that feedback truly is a gift. Because it can be hard to say the tough thing, and believing that it’s for the greater good will help you to actually do it.
How to give feedback in a way that doesn’t suck
If you struggle to give feedback, I’m right there with you. I’m an empath and I definitely want people to like me. And I’ve made people CRY by giving them feedback. Which is pretty much my nightmare.
So how can you give feedback in a way that honours your desire to treat people well?
1. Build a foundation of trust
When you team truly believes you have their best interest at heart and care about helping them get better, they’ll be more likely to receive your feedback in a more positive way. So take the time to invest in these relationships and even be vulnerable with your team.
Bottom line: when we believe someone cares about us, we perceive their actions differently.
2. Use kind candour
Kind candour is the pinnacle of effective business communication in my opinion. It means you’re still being kind and respectful, to the point that people know you have their best interest at heart, but also being direct enough that no one is left confused about what feedback was just received.
Do you use the compliment sandwich? Well, if the complement part of the sandwich is so thick that your employee doesn’t grasp the constructive feedback part, you’re not doing your job.
Use kind words but ensure the message is clear and concise. You want this person to fully understand what you’re asking them to work on and even what ‘good’ looks like.
By that I mean, ensure the feedback is specific and actionable. If you tell someone they need to improve their communication skills, give them specific examples. Give them a path to get better. Communicate what success looks like.
3. Create a culture of feedback
One of the best ways to do this is through process. For example, let’s say you run a sales team and want to give some feedback on their customer demos. You could create a process whereby they submit a call every 2 weeks along with a self-assessment on how it went.
Then, in your 1:1 you an go through the assessment together and share any feedback they may have missed.
The great thing about creating a culture of regular feedback through process is that it doesn’t feel as personal, since you’re doing this with the whole team. And it gives you an opportunity to have these conversations regularly without having to awkwardly bring it up!
4. Ask permission
The last tip for giving feedback is super simple but often overlooked. And that’s simply to ask permission to give someone feedback before diving into it.
If you say, “Thanks for putting together that presentation. Are you open to some feedback?” and they say “Yes”, the door is now open to share. When feedback is unsolicited, the listener may not be open to hearing it and may even become defensive.
What about receiving feedback?
What I hear most often from the women I talk is not that the feedback from their boss hurts, it’s that it’s ineffective. It’s vague. And it’s not helping them get to the next level.
How often have you asked your boss for feedback on how you’re doing and heard some variation of:
“Just keep doing what you’re doing.”
“You’re not quite there yet. Stick with this role and I’ll know when you’re there.”
Or my personal ‘favourite’:
“I want to see you be more strategic.”
Just like when giving feedback, you want to receive feedback that’s actionable. That’s specific and clear. And sadly, we won’t always get this from those above us.
This may be partly because of their own inner fears – they don’t want to hurt our feelings or offend us. They don’t want to rock the boat.
So what can we do?
1. Share your goals early and often
Don’t wait for an open position to tell your boss you’re looking to move to the next level. Instead, start having conversations with your manager now about your careers goals and even better, get their support in helping you achieve these goals along with a plan to give you regular feedback.
Ask for a regular meeting (perhaps monthly or quarterly) where you revisit this topic. And let them know you’re not just okay with receiving feedback, you really want it!
2. Get curious and ask the right questions
This is where you can turn vague, unhelpful feedback into something you can use. Get curious! Dig deeper. Ask for examples.
So if your boss says, “Just keep doing what you’re doing.” you could say, “Okay great. So to confirm, if I keep doing what I’m doing now, will I be in line for the next promotion to XYZ role?”
If the answer is ‘no’, you now have an opportunity to ask what you need to start doing in addition to what you’re doing today.
Or if they say, “I want to see you be more strategic.” try saying, “Thanks for this feedback and I’m on board with being more strategic. Specifically, what would this look like to you? Can you give me some examples where I could have been more strategic and demonstrate what a more strategic approach would have been instead?”
What you’re trying to do here is get clear on what ‘good’ looks like so you can level up and show it to them.
3. Hold your boss accountable
Yep, it’s not just your boss that gets to hold you accountable!
If your boss isn’t having the regular meetings you agreed upon, hold them accountable to having these conversations and providing you with feedback.
Or, if they’ve told you what they want to see from you to get to the next level (ie. see question 2) you can bring this back up to them with examples of how you’ve demonstrated a certain skill or behaviour and confirm that this is what they’re looking for.
Remember that YOU are the one with the most to gain by making sure you’re getting feedback from your manager. So don’t let them off the hook.
Alright, this topic was a big one! I’d love to hear what you thought of it. Give me some feedback!