The audience had been listening to me for over three hours. We were halfway through our workshop on Coaching for High Performance. The following section we were to cover was on the importance of feedback and how to provide it to the people on your team. To kick off this section on feedback, I asked for feedback—on my performance over the past three hours. You should have seen the looks on their faces. It was as if I had asked them to do something illegal.
Each audience member had a stack of sticky notes, which I asked them to use to capture something positive I had done, and at least two things I could do better. I provided a flipchart stand at the front of the room with a column for “Positive Feedback” and a column for “Constructive Feedback.” Then I left the room.
Why do we struggle with giving constructive feedback?
Feedback has two sides, the giving and receiving of it, and both sides have a certain degree of difficulty. When giving constructive feedback, we don’t want to risk causing a conflict or hurting someone’s feelings. When receiving feedback, it creates the possibility that I am not as perfect as I thought. Trust me when I say this: I was asking the audience for feedback, and I still cringed a little when I read what they had written.
3 Things to Consider When Providing Constructive Feedback
When we returned from the break, I looked over at the flipchart page covered with sticky notes. I did not go there immediately; instead, I addressed the audience, asking about their response to my request for constructive feedback. Here are the three things we learned from this exercise:
1. FEEDBACK IS A GIFT YOU PROVIDE OTHERS TO LET THEM KNOW HOW THEY ARE DOING.
Even though their first response was fear, uncertainty, and doubt, all I was really asking for was their assessment of how I was doing. What worked, and what needed improvement? The net result of great feedback is improved performance.
2. TO PROVIDE CONSTRUCTIVE FEEDBACK MORE EASILY, GET IN THE RIGHT MINDSET.
I have often shared that every person in your circle of influence is asking three questions about you. Those questions are:
- Can you help me?
- Do you care about me?
- Can I trust you?
When providing feedback to others, ask yourself these questions. Is your intent behind the feedback to help them, show you care about them, and build trust with them? If so, you are in an excellent place to openly share your feedback.
3. KEEP YOUR FEEDBACK OBJECTIVE AND DESCRIPTIVE.
It can be tempting to make feedback personal and judgmental. Instead, remove emotion by remaining objective. Describe the specific action or behavior you are referencing in as much detail as possible.
When I finally looked at the audience’s feedback, I learned a couple more things about how we act when directly asked for feedback. First, the positive side of the flipchart was twice the size of the constructive side. Is this because I am such a fantastic speaker and teacher? Most likely, it is because we are much more comfortable telling people the positives than the negatives. My instructions were to provide one positive and two constructive. I received the opposite.
Second, when I read the constructive side of the chart, it was sprinkled with some lighthearted, humorous comments like “Provide beer during breaks” and “You should give out Starbuck gift cards for correct answers.” Perhaps it was because people were trying to lighten the mood with humor, but it was more likely a self-defense response we often use when put in an uncomfortable situation. If you find providing constructive feedback to be uncomfortable, embrace the discomfort and do it anyway – the people in your circle will respect you for it.
About Perry Holley
Perry Holley is a coach and facilitator with Maxwell Leadership, as well as a published author. As co-host of the Maxwell Leadership Executive Leadership Podcast, he has a passion for developing others and seeing people grow into the leaders they were intended to become.
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