Feedback Part 1: Examine your motive before you open your mouth

By October 11, 2021 Performance

We should be so good at doing feedback nowadays. It’s a shame we aren’t. We start with the best intentions – to give regular feedback and be open to receiving it too – yet when the pressure is on, we forget to make it a priority and fall back on the mealy-mouthed act of speedily pointing out the flaws and staying quiet about all the good stuff. We also worry that we don’t have the right to give feedback – to team members, colleagues and bosses. Not only is it our right to give it, it is their right to expect it and to give us feedback in return. It just needs to be done with a modicum of skill, compassion and common sense.

In this two-parter, we’ll examine how you give feedback and receive feedback well and avoid the pitfalls of silly techniques and inauthentic work-speak.

Part 1 – start on the right road by examining your motive. What is compelling you to want to give the feedback in the first place? It might be a genuine desire to help someone grow and develop, the need to stop someone who is behaving in a way that is holding them back, or a wish to comment on something you feel they do really well and the positive impact it has. These are all honourable motives and are likely to result in constructively delivered feedback. A compulsion to get something off your chest or to take someone down a peg or two are less honourable (though understandably tempting at times) and are more likely to lead to destructive feedback – and in the short term certainly, will do more harm than good.

Some motives could go either way for example, the desire to pass on the benefit of your experience through some feedback. If that is your motive then find a way to do it so it doesn’t sound patronising: “Let me, the great sage of many years’ experience, pass down to you the rookie, the great honour of a particle of my considerable brain.” We have all had that done to us at one time or other and rather than listen to the content of the feedback, it makes you want to thump the person. The benefit of your experience should be offered not imposed, and put into context, for example, this worked for you once but it may not work for them – for it to be a constructive experience.

Finally, beware the motive of cheering someone up where they’re having a bad time, by giving praise. If you tell them things are better than they really are, and they are savvy enough to know they’re not, they may distrust your feedback in the future. Better to talk to them about what is going wrong and give them some perspective on the situation, than try to stick a smiley plaster on a gaping wound.

Once you have your motive sorted you are ready to deliver the feedback. In Part 2 we’ll discuss how to give it so it is taken well. Then we’ll tackle feedback you might have coming your way – and how to receive it with grace. Because you know what they say – if you can’t take it….