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Getting and giving constructive feedback

Most of us give and get feedback as part of annual performance reviews. Over time, this event has come to be feared and hated by all sides.

However, with a little thought and practice, feedback can become a very powerful and useful tool for individuals and their organizations. Instead of marching to the gallows, employees and supervisors can give and receive useful information that helps everyone.

How do we do this?

We start with the purpose of feedback. Feedback should be constructive and add value – to indicate when things are going in the right direction, or to help someone get back on track.

First let’s look at the negative and ineffective styles of giving feedback (from Phil Rich):

  • Attacking: hard hitting and aggressive, focusing on the weaknesses of the other person
  • Indirect: feedback is vague and issues hinted at rather than addressed directly
  • Insensitive: little concern for the needs of the other person
  • Disrespectful: feedback is demeaning, bordering on insulting
  • Judgmental: feedback is evaluative, judging personality rather than behavior
  • General: aimed at broad issues which cannot be easily defined
  • Poor timing: given long after the prompting event, or at the worst possible time
  • Impulsive: given thoughtlessly, with little regard for the consequences
  • Selfish: feedback meets the giver’s needs, rather than the needs of the other person

Now let’s look at some positive and effective styles of giving feedback:

  • Supportive: delivered in a non-threatening and encouraging manner
  • Direct: the focus of the feedback is clearly stated
  • Sensitive: delivered with sensitivity to the needs of the other person
  • Considerate: feedback is intended to not insult or demean
  • Descriptive: focuses on behavior that can be changed, rather than personality
  • Specific: feedback is focused on specific behaviors or events
  • Healthy timing: given as close to the prompting event as possible and at an opportune time
  • Thoughtful: well considered rather than impulsive
  • Helpful: feedback is intended to be of value to the other person

What about getting feedback?

Here are some examples of negative and ineffective styles of getting feedback:

  • Defensive: defends personal actions, frequently objects to feedback given
  • Attacking: verbally attacks the feedback giver, and turns the table
  • Denies: refutes the accuracy or fairness of the feedback
  • Disrespectful: devalues the speaker, what the speaker is saying, or the speaker’s right to give feedback
  • Closed: ignores the feedback, listening blankly without interest
  • Inactive listening: makes no attempt to “hear” or understand the meaning of the feedback
  • Rationalizing: finds explanations for the feedback that dissolve any personal responsibility
  • Patronizing: listens, but shows little interest
  • Superficial: listens and agrees, but gives the impression that the feedback will have little actual effect

​And here are some positive and effective styles of getting feedback:

  • Open: listens without frequent interruption or objections
  • Responsive: willing to hear what’s being said without turning the table
  • Accepting: accepts the feedback, without denial
  • Respectful: recognizes the value of what is being said and the speaker’s right to say it
  • Engaged: interacts appropriately with the speaker, asking for clarification when needed
  • Active listening: listens carefully and tries to understand the meaning of the feedback
  • Thoughtful: tries to understand the personal behavior that has led to the feedback
  • Interested: is genuinely interested in getting feedback
  • Sincere: genuinely wants to make personal changes if appropriate

Whichever side you are on, giving or getting feedback, the key thing to remember is that constructive feedback helps us to have better working relationships. And knowing how others see you can help you to make positive changes.

Saying of the Month

“Wherever you go, there you are.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn

In working with clients who have recently changed jobs, I frequently hear something like: “I thought that it would be different at the new place.”

While changing jobs can be a very good thing, it’s important to be self-aware of your skills, strengths and values. In other words, what things belong to the job and what things belong to you?

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