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Fighting a feedback fear

Being an extremely self-doubtful person, my relationship with feedback has been difficult during all my life. However, I’ve learned to understand the importance of being able to provide and receive constructive feedback, and nowadays I’m giving trainings to my colleagues about it. Now I want to share my learnings with you.

At first steps in my career, I was really terrified to hear any criticism of my work from colleagues, who I thought saw all my littlest inexperienced mistakes and judged me by them. I can say that I have been avoiding receiving feedback at all costs at that point.

As I have been growing both professionally and personally, I’ve realised how big an impact of believing, encouraging and caring could be. And there wouldn’t be any progress in my development without a constant, constructive and warmly welcomed feedback.

Why is feedback important?

Anybody ever thought what “feedback” really means? Simply, feedback is a reaction to an action or behaviour, it’s a conversation with someone to share information. Feedback is always there. Whenever we speak to a person, we communicate feedback. It is practically impossible not to give feedback.

Both common sense and a research say that feedback helps to improve whether an individual, group, business or company and that information received can be used to make better decisions. How else will people know that you don’t like something and you want it to change? It essentially is one of the greatest gifts you can give or receive from someone.

Praise or criticism?

Positive feedback (reinforcing, or praising) aims to encourage doing a certain positive behaviour. It can and should be given at any time, and it’s particularly good when it is unexpected.

As William James said, “The deepest principle of human nature is the craving to be appreciated.”

Positive feedback is highly energising. Effective feedback in a form of praise lets a person know that they achieved something and their efforts are recognised.

Feedback is often mistaken for negative criticism, but what is viewed as criticism is actually constructive criticism. Giving negative feedback, we are used to telling a person to stop doing something.

Redirecting (or coaching) feedback should also imply telling someone to stop doing X and start doing Y. And opposite to what some might tend to think, people are craving for redirecting feedback more than for praise.

57% of people want the truth and not just patting on the back.

Practical tips on giving constructive feedback

Research shows that 44% of managers find giving constructive feedback stressful and difficult, while 21% of them avoided giving negative feedback entirely.

There are many reasons why people are scared to give constructive feedback, being mainly a fear of disrupting relationships (being hurt, rejected, provoke conflict etc).

Following tips will guide and help you to become better in providing redirecting feedback:

1. Be clear about giving feedback.

Don’t surprise a person. Begin your conversation by letting them know that you are going to provide feedback, or even ask for a permission first:

Can I give you feedback?

I would like to share some observations with you… Would that be OK with you?

When would be a good time to talk to you about something?

2. Make it timely.

The best feedback is at the moment (or close to it). If you wait for a formal meeting, you might not remember what it was that happened. It’s important to remember that it is dangerous to delay critical feedback too much.

3. Don’t get personal.

Start by describing the context of the feedback, what the situation is. Share the results or the impact that a person’s behavior had on you or others. Stick to the facts, focus on specific actions that need to be improved instead of talking about personal characteristics. Otherwise, it can hurt their overall performance and job satisfaction.

4. Focus on the goal.

Remember, that the end goal of constructive feedback should be positive future results. The feedback that includes what we can do to reach our goals is motivating and makes us feel good.

5. Offer help.

You want to make clear that you are there to offer support and to listen. Even if you realize that it is not on your competence you can suggest another person who can help.

6. Be specific.

Specificity is important for learning and serves as a basis for comparison and a guide to future behavior. When you tell someone, they did a good job, it’s a nice compliment, but they don’t have a specific behavior to repeat in the future.

7. Change “but” to “and” or “what if”.

Avoid a cliché “I like what you are doing, but…” It offends people’s intelligence, as they instantly know that you are not that happy about their behavior as soon as you pull out that “but”.

To include a solution to constructive feedback without criticising, try to go for statements such as “What you did works really well. What if we also ….” or “This part of what you did looks great, and we should…

8. Feedback is not “one-size-fits-all”.

Working with your colleagues might give you insights on how they handle certain situations.

9. Alternate constructive feedback with praise.

People tend to perceive constructive feedback better when you are giving them reinforcing feedback from time to time.

10. Prepare for the emotional outcome from your feedback.

A person might feel anger or shock, feel embarrassed and even reject what they are hearing. Don’t try to revise and soften what you were saying previously, it will cause confusion.

11. Expect feedback in return.

Having given feedback yourself, you need to be ready to receive it. For some more useful tips, check Nikolay’s blog post where he tells more about the ways of giving feedback.

Challenges of receiving feedback

So, feedback is an essential component of an effective change. And we all know that it is a two-way street. Giving feedback may sound a really big challenge, but what about receiving it?

Our perception of negative feedback varies a lot depending on who is giving it. It is much easier to accept someone’s criticism when the person is trustworthy and sincere.

However, feedback always puts pressure on relationships and we feel threatened when feeling of appreciation and our right to do things our way is being questioned. We might think that they try to control or improve us – meaning we are not perfect to them in the first place!

Learning from feedback, particularly when it is redirecting (doing less of something or differently), can be difficult for us because everybody has their own way of coping with difficult feedback.

Did you feel embarrassed when listening to constructive feedback to you? Being blamed? Underestimated? Hurt? Unloved? Maybe you shut off or started tearing right away? (yeah, the latter is how I usually react myself).

And I’ll tell you – it is normal. Everybody has their own ways of processing criticism. Our genes define our default level of a well-being, that influences our sensitivity to feedback and how fast we recover from it.

Also, we all feel bad emotions more strongly that we feel the good ones. However, it is possible to find a way of coping with instant reactions and start processing feedback in a constructive way.

What helps to receive feedback?

It is essential not to ignore constructive feedback or turn it around by thinking that the person giving it is actually the one who is really wrong. Sometimes we are reacting on what we think people are saying to us, and not on what they are actually saying.

What I would like you to stay wary of before you go to the defensive mode, is that we generally view ourselves more positively than others do. We also tend to judge ourselves by our intentions, while we judge others by their actions.

Remember complaining about your coworker being cold to you? But when it comes to you, you’ll probably find an excuse for it. You’ll say you were stressed out that day or having a headache.

Receiving constructive feedback will become easier when you take a deep breath and allow yourself to alleviate your stress and think twice before acting further.

Let’s check how to make the most out of a constructive (or not) criticism you are receiving:

1. Keep asking for feedback.

Learn to identify what kind of feedback you need. Do you crave recognition or actionable advice?

“Is there something I can do to improve?”

“What did you like about my project?”

Don’t forget that other people’s opinions are valuable, especially when they have access to more information than us.

As people tend to avoid giving constructive feedback, try next time to ask for advice instead. “Advice” is a much more welcoming word, it’s about lending someone a hand.

2 Just listen.

Approach feedback with one goal in mind: listening. Constructive feedback puts most people into a defensive mode, it restricts our ability to focus on a solution. So, listen closely to what’s being said. Don’t interrupt.

3. Understand your feedback.

If you don’t fully understand someone’s feedback, ask open-ended questions to keep a conversation going. It will help you to understand behavior you can stop, start or continue in the future. Paraphrase it back to ensure that you understand what’s being said.

4. Don’t feel offended.

Try to understand the person’s intentions before you become defensive. No one intentionally wants to hurt someone’s feelings; quite the opposite. Take two steps back and look for other forces at play. Accept that you feel hurt or angry. Then place these feelings on one side.

5. Act on feedback.

Take time to process feedback. Focus on what specifically you will do to change or reinforce behaviour. Establish a “growth mentality” meaning keeping a positive attitude and believing that you can get better. Take a challenge as an opportunity, and feedback as a way of learning.

6. Say thank you and show gratitude.

As mentioned above, giving constructive feedback can be a challenging and scary thing to do. If you show gratitude to people that provided you with feedback it will reinforce their efforts and you will more likely get valuable feedback in the future.

The secret of feedback

On my way preparing to share my findings of feedback importance by giving training at Exove, I read a lot of articles, studied many research results, gathered together practical tips on better ways to give and perceive feedback.

I prepared a good long speech and presented my main findings in this article, but what I finally realised is that you succeed in giving great feedback by simply being a human.

The urge of giving feedback to somebody should come from a wish to help a person to become better in something by trying to understand their intentions and offer support, that shows our caring for their wellbeing.

You will always succeed in providing tough feedback if your attitude is: “I want to make things better – for you at first”. A person will sense your positive intentions right away and receiving feedback will be less painful, following a productive outcome for both of you.

So, don’t be afraid of feedback anymore!

If you have some other advices or tips on receiving or giving feedback, do share it with us on our social media channels.

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