Feedback works as effectively in the corporate world as it does in the universe of sports athletes.
Imagine training for the Olympics without knowing how fast you performed or how high you jumped. Feedback closes the gap between how we see ourselves and how others see us.
Providing candid feedback means not being afraid to give your honest and constructive opinion on something, such as the performance of an employee or co-worker.
Given and received in the right way, feedback allows for better employee engagement, employee retention, and employee morale.
But feedback should not happen only during a certain time of the year, such as during annual performance reviews. In an organization with a feedback culture, the exchange of feedback should be an ongoing conversation or a relationship.
What Stops Us From Exchanging Candid Feedback?
Why do these candid, two-way dialogues become so uncomfortable and nerve-wracking? Such feelings associated with feedback may be due to:
- the perception that the one who gives feedback is the person in charge
- the fear of upsetting subordinates or colleagues’ feelings, which may affect their work performance and strain their relationship, especially if they work alongside each other
- worry among subordinates that giving negative feedback to management may affect career prospects
- the absence or lack of role models for feedback
- the desire to only hear positive comments, a quid-pro-quo arrangement that goes this way: “I’ll give you positive feedback if you give me the same.”
- pride in having a ‘nice’ culture
Different Schools of Thought about Feedback
The following are some of the varying expert opinions about how feedback should look like and why it could be good or bad for the company.
The founder of investment management firm Bridgewater Associates Ray Dalio created a policy of straightforward, honest, and open communication dubbed as “radical transparency” back in the 1990s.
He believed that people must feel psychologically safe to share an idea, concern, or question to another person without fear of punishment or humiliation.
Leadership authors Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall are on the opposite end of the spectrum, saying that feedback can hinder development.
In their Harvard Business Review article “The Feedback Fallacy,” the pair said that organizations must focus on their personnel’s strengths and encourage them to shine in those areas instead of planning how to give constructive criticism.
Goodall said that managers can’t expect mistake-fixing tools to be excellence-building tools. Echoing his co-author, Buckingham said that becoming excellent starts with developing what’s already working well with you.
The authors celebrate the uniqueness of individuals, saying that in usual feedback setups, the feedback givers ask others to be more like them (known as the idiosyncratic rater effect) when in fact everyone is different.
Other Coaches Advocate a Middle-Ground
Some learning gurus acknowledge the danger of always dwelling on the shortcomings and aiming to “fix people.”
However, they point out that critical feedback shouldn’t be avoided. Shelley Osborne, head of learning and development at Udemy, believes that good feedback depends a lot on how managers frame and deliver it.
Employers have a responsibility to build an environment where people feel safe to talk openly about mistakes, making sure that both the feedback giver and receiver benefit from such communication.
Jim Knight, a senior partner at the Instructional Coaching Group, stresses that feedback should be a conversation between equals, where individuals don’t try to prove who’s right but try to do what’s right together.
Kim Scott, the bestselling author of “Radical Candor,” is a proponent of honest and even uncomfortable exchange of feedback.
In Scott’s “Radical Candor” framework, successful managers balance the two abilities, each represented by the x axis and y axis.
The x axis or horizontal line represents the way managers are able to “challenge directly” or tell their employees the hard truth without fear. Meanwhile, the y axis or vertical line represents the way superiors are able to “care personally” for their staff.
How Can Firms Cultivate a Feedback Culture?
There’s no “one size fits all” when it comes to instilling a culture of feedback. Here’s how you can establish a feedback model that’s just right for your company:
- Business leaders and managers should first be honest about their motives to determine the best approach for the company.
- After determining your goals, develop or adapt a model for feedback.
- One popular feedback tool is the 360 review software, which gives employees the opportunity to receive performance feedback from their supervisor or manager and four to eight colleagues, reporting staff members, and customers.
- Run a training or workshop where employees will acquire the skills and practice making, receiving, and processing in-the-moment types of feedback.
- As managers, we must show that we’re open to constructive feedback, able to own up to our mistakes, and eager to improve in our roles so our team can follow suit.
- Make feedback part of daily life. Create clear channels or forums where people can exchange feedback between formal reviews.
Common Feedback Mistakes
The aim of candid feedback is not to get things off our chest but to help colleagues become more effective in their jobs.
When are the other times feedback becomes wrong?
- The one giving feedback judges individuals instead of their actions and behavior or psychoanalyzes the motives behind the behavior.
- The feedback is too general.
- The feedback is based on second-hand information.
- The feedback-giver follows the “sandwich approach” of surrounding constructive criticism with positive feedback, even for wrong action.
- The feedback process drags on for too long or has just given a substantial amount of feedback to that person recently.
- The feedback-giver makes an implied threat.
- The feedback-giver uses humor that’s not suitable for the situation.
- The feedback-giver is hungry, angry, lonely or tired.
How to Give Helpful Feedback
Kim Scott has six tips on helpful feedback:
- Understand why you plan to share the feedback in the first place so your motive will come out naturally to the person you will speak with.
- Clarify you intention to help.
- As the saying goes, “show, don’t tell.” Point out the particular bad or wrong behavior that needs to be addressed.
- Find help from other sources if necessary. Sometimes our colleagues must be connected to other people to improve or overcome their faults.
- Remember that feedback is a gift. Take comfort in the fact that the feedback itself might be the only help you can offer.
- Put the task or work assignment in context so colleagues can realize the impact of the successful or failed delivery of a task.
As receivers of feedback, adopt a “listen-to-understand” mentality. Suspend judgment — and defensiveness — while actively listening to the feedback.
Before becoming defensive, try to reflect and summarize what you heard. When needed, ask questions to clarify or ask the feedback giver for examples of incidents to illustrate the feedback. Then look for concrete solutions in response to the feedback.
Feedback — just like individual improvement — is an ongoing process. With practice and humility, feedback can help our teams can grow in self-awareness and reach their full potential.